U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Boulder) speaks during a CORE Act One Year Anniversary event on January 30, 2020 at the Hyatt Regency in Denver. Andy Colwell, special to the Colorado Sun

U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Lafayette, has introduced a vitally important resolution in the U.S. Congress to stem the loss of our planet’s wild creatures. 

As revealed in a recent global biodiversity report, although more than 150 countries pledged 10 years ago to work toward achieving 20 targets for conserving biodiversity by the year 2020, no target has been fully met. 

This failure is not just a problem for tigers and polar bears. Biodiversity loss also means fewer pollinators for agriculture, depleted fisheries, and dwindling flows of clean water. 

Tim Preso

Congressman Neguse’s resolution, introduced Dec. 2, seeks to establish a National Biodiversity Strategy as a critical first step in the right direction as a new presidential administration takes office next month.

To address the biodiversity crisis we are facing, our national strategy must take full advantage of our strongest tool for preventing extinctions: the Endangered Species Act of 1973. 

Signed by President Nixon in the midst of an extinction crisis that threatened even our national symbol, the bald eagle, the Endangered Species Act reflected the resolve of a society committed to guaranteeing a future not only for itself, but also for the rest of creation, even if difficult sacrifices might be required. 

Grounded in a recognition that extinction is irreversible, the act established what amounts to a bill of rights for the animals and plants with whom we share our world, with the basic right to continued existence being central to the law.

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The experience of four decades has demonstrated the act’s importance. Of 2,200 species protected under the Endangered Species Act, only 10 have vanished — and eight were likely extinct before they came under the act’s protection. In other words, the act has been more than 99% successful at preserving our nation’s wildlife heritage. 

Because of the act, today’s children are able to experience not only bald eagles but also orcas, alligators, condors, grizzly bears and myriad other creatures as living, breathing parts of our natural heritage — not dusty museum specimens. Because of the act, the howling of wolves is again tingling spines in places as diverse as California, Wisconsin, and North Carolina. And, because of the act, people are working out ways to live with wildlife ranging from wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest to manatees in south Florida.

Yet as much as the Endangered Species Act has provided a bulwark against extinctions, it has been a bulwark under siege.

Recent critics of the act focus on the relatively few species removed from endangered or threatened classifications over the past 47 years, ignoring the fact that human demand for natural resources has grown steadily past sustainable levels since the 1970s, with one recent analysis estimating that today we use 60% more biological resources annually than the Earth can renew during an entire year. The act has been extraordinarily successful in preventing extinctions in the face of this ever-growing human footprint on the environment.

Today, that growing human footprint is more apparent than ever. Headlines carry the news that North America has lost 29% of its bird populations since 1970 and the Western monarch butterfly population has plummeted by 99% since the 1980s. The nation is struggling under the assault of a virus that was transmitted from bats as human development pushed ever deeper into Asian wildlife habitats.

Faced with such troubling news, it would seem that the last thing we would wish to do is roll back the landmark law that has prevented even greater harm to wildlife for nearly half a century. Yet that is just what the Endangered Species Act’s opponents are trying to do through a barrage of new administrative rulemakings and legislative proposals that seek to destroy or blunt virtually every effective conservation tool in the act’s arsenal.

Congressman Neguse’s resolution seeks to reverse these troubling attacks on the Endangered Species Act and would instead set us on a path toward global leadership in the fight to save the nearly 1 million species threatened by extinction in this century. 

Implementing this resolution would mean controlling pesticides, cleaning up lakes and rivers, and preserving wild places that provide a long-term, low-cost source of clean air and water and offer a quiet refuge in our increasingly noisy and developed world.

Wild creatures need these things, but we do too. In the end, by preserving endangered species, we preserve ourselves. This resolution deserves our support.

Tim Preso is managing attorney in the Northern Rockies office of Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law organization. He is based in Bozeman, Montana.

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