Endangered Species Act Remains Endangered

Typically, news stories about the Endangered Species Act (ESA) only mention the controversy surrounding the 45-year-old law, and not that it is one of the most important laws in the world protecting biodiversity, or that it has been 99% effective in preventing species extinction. In fact, were it not for the act, 227 additional species would now be extinct, possibly including the bald eagle, the symbol of our nation.

Interestingly, surveys have shown that public support for the act has remained stable for the past two decades, ranging from a low of 79% to a high of 90%, with 83% support on average. Only about one in ten Americans oppose the law. Those identifying themselves as hunters and property rights advocates were at least 68% supportive; property rights groups were the least supportive, but only 21% of this group were against the act.

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Yet the ESA has been constantly under attack in Washington. “In the 1990’s and 2000’s, a typical year saw roughly five attempts to amend the act or curtail its protections. But from 2011 to 2015, there were about 33 legislative attacks per year — and there have been almost 150 in the last two years alone,” according to Jeremy Bruskotter, an associate professor of environment and natural resources and a conservation policy expert at Ohio State.

Bruskotter of course suspects the public’s support of the Endangered Species Act might not align with the perspective of business and those political interests with vested commercial and other interests who are able to fund candidates willing to roll back the ESA. “I don’t think at any time, maybe since the act was passed, have there been this many members of Congress working in direct opposition to the act, but that doesn’t mean that they’re acting in the interests of the people they represent,” he said.

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Bruskotter said he’d like elected officials and others in policy-making positions to actually consider what the vast majority of Americans think about existing protections, and to not let vocal minorities drown out the will of the American people. “Government should be responsive to its citizens, but our research suggests that is not how government is working, at least not when it comes to environmental policy,” he said.


Ohio State University. 2018.  “Vast majority of Americans support Endangered Species Act despite increasing efforts to curtail it: Political and business interests don’t appear to align with public’s view.” ScienceDaily, 19 July 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180719121800.htm>.