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BY RUTH RUDNER
“Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed,” Richard Nixon said on signing the Endangered Species Act in 1973. The goal of the act, to conserve species at risk of becoming extinct, requires protecting “critical habitat,” areas with the features necessary for survival of the listed species.
Or, it’s supposed to.
Not long after being sworn in, the 114th Congress began a focused attack on our vulnerable wildlife, and the public lands on which it depends. This Congress, the first ever to intervene in the listing process, seems generally blind to the connection between the health of the earth and the health of humans living on the earth. Willing to put politics above science, this Congress seems perfectly willing to put politics above everything. Since January 2015, Congress has introduced more than 45 bills that would undermine the Endangered Species Act, either by prohibiting listing a specific species, delisting specific species, requiring a governor’s approval before listing, or automatically delisting all species after five years. Because removing a species (or adding one) to the Endangered Species List isn’t Congress’s job, doing so means acting outside the law.
Is wildlife a legitimate political tool? And, if it is, how vulnerable is the landscape in which we hunt, fish, climb, hike, film, write? Who do anti-wildlife laws benefit? How sacred is the Endangered Species Act?
The act has been effective. Bald eagles, peregrine falcons, gray wolves, grizzly bears, Florida manatees, American alligators and black-footed ferrets are all species the act’s protections rescued from the brink of extinction.
I had my own small part in this when I spent a summer in Montana’s Gallatin Range as a peregrine falcon hack-site attendant. When 13 years later peregrines were officially removed from the list, it was not only a triumph for the falcon, but for the government agencies, state and provincial wildlife departments, private organizations, falconers, biologists and ordinary people who worked 30 years to recover this magnificent bird. At the celebration for this success, all of us who had a part in it were asked to stand and shout, “Victory!” It was a monumental shout coming out of the gut of a thousand people at once.
That pride remains palpable for me. I imagine it when I think of wolves, brought back from an edge of extinction in the Lower 48 states only to experience a tenuous hold on their right to exist.
The choice to protect our natural heritage, to preserve the wildlife and wild lands which are a source of our well-being, is a choice each of us can offer readers or viewers. Presenting glimpses of what is at stake, what it means when any part of an ecosystem is endangered, how every part is then affected, seems to me the job of the outdoor communicator. We need the science to be correct. We need to know that balanced ecosystems take nothing away from any of us. We need to value what is wild. ♦
—Ruth Rudner is a Montana writer living in New Mexico, but on her way back to being a full-time Montanan. An OWAA member for over 30 years, she is the author of hundreds of articles and 13 books, most of which revolve around wild places and wildlife.