Let's invest in new conservation approaches that help protect species before they become endangered.David H. Festa, Senior Vice President, Ecosystems
The Endangered Species Act – protecting wildlife since 1973 – is in danger itself.
A bipartisan Congress and President Nixon put it in place, recognizing habitat loss and pollution were putting species in crisis.
Today, as a new generation of lawmakers threatens the ESA, it's clear we need the law, combined with other methods of conservation, to keep wildlife safe.
Why the ESA is essential
There are nearly 1,300 plants and animals on the endangered species list – more than 90 percent of them have active recovery plans. The ESA has helped dozens of other species recover – from the American bald eagle to the black-footed ferret.
It's a necessary emergency room for endangered wildlife, as it stops the bleeding and wards off immediate extinction. But as with humans, these species need more preventive care, so they don't have to rush to the ER in the first place.
Creating incentives to conserve habitat
Three-quarters of the land in the United States is privately owned – big potential to work directly with ranchers, farmers and other landowners.
We launched the Safe Harbor program to give landowners new incentives to protect rare species on their property.
The idea became a national program that now includes 4 million acres.
Going further, we developed habitat exchanges, which allow landowners to earn credits by maintaining and improving habitat for vulnerable species on their land.
These flexible kinds of solutions protect wildlife while offering economic opportunity.
Success stories pave the way
Though agriculture, development, pollution and climate change are shrinking habitat, our decades of experience show that species benefit when landowners are given incentives to conserve. Examples include:
A multi-state, historic effort to try to recover a unique bird shows that early action and collaboration bring results.
To protect the golden-cheeked warbler, Fort Hood – a Texas Army base – swaps credits with local landowners to offset habitat loss.
By making proactive conservation improvements, New England landowners restore habitat for a unique rabbit – keeping it off the endangered list.
Such approaches hold promise for other species at risk, such as the monarch butterfly, whose population has dropped 90 percent in two decades.