The Endangered Species Act is awesome. It is very arguably our strongest environmental law in the United States. Think about it: the federal government lists species according to how threatened they are and protects them outright! It is kind of amazing and so very necessary to the conservation of biodiversity. Of course, there are parts of the law that have been weakened over the years; for instance, Habitat Conservation Plans allow entities (companies, universities, developers) to get a permit to destroy endangered species habitat- if they agree to “protect” other areas of habitat.
I have mixed feelings about Habitat Conservation Plans because, on the one hand, they allow destruction of vital endangered species habtiat!, but, on the other, they sometimes require that the developers actually manage habitat in other areas. For example, with the Ohlone tiger beetle, the University of California Santa Cruz had to write up a Habitat Conservation Plan in order to build new faculty housing in Coastal Prairie habitat. This housing was dangerously close to Ohlone tiger beetle (OTB) habitat. Because the OTB is listed as endangered species, the University had to write up a plan that would prove to the government, specifically, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), that it would protect other areas of known OTB habitat and not just protect those areas but manage for the beetle.
The word “manage” is important because, if the University said that they would just “protect” areas of known OTB habitat, they would just have set aside the prairie and not done anything with it. As we know from my research and others, prairie that is not managed with disturbance becomes quickly overgrown and all the bare ground gets covered up, causing the beetles to decline. Luckily, the University’s Habitat Conservation Plan requires the University to both graze cattle on the prairie as well as try out new management techniques- like scraping! This management helps keep the Ohlone tiger beetle a little further from extinction.
The reason I wrote about this today is because a few days ago, May 18th, was “Endangered Species Day” and I received an email from the Center for Biological Diversity about a study they conducted called “On Time, on target: How the endangered species act is saving America’s wildlife”. They aim to determine the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act in protecting species. In their study 110 Success Stories for Endangered Species Day 2012, they found 90% of the 110 species they studied are on the path to recovery goals set by the USFWS. This report is so important because it shows that the Endangered Species Act really IS protecting our biodiversity!! So, please, support the Act, write to your member of congress urging them to strengthen the Endangered Species Act and to increase government funds to protect our fellow species!