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The 50th Anniversary of the Endangered Species Act

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) turns 50 years old today and this milestone serves as a benchmark on which to measure its progress. In the face of habitat loss, climate change, and other threats, the law has prevented 99 percent of the species listed for protection from going extinct. For me, being able to work on implementing this law is one aspect of being part of a mission larger than myself, that of ensuring the wondrous biodiversity on Earth continues long after I am gone. Even though my current job has taken me mostly away from fieldwork, I am satisfied knowing that the policy guidance I provide has played a role in positively shaping conservation efforts on the ground.

“The purposes of this Act are to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved…”

Section 2(b) of the Endangered Species Act

I first encountered the ESA in my professional life through my studies in landscape ecology and public policy, and my acceptance into the Directorate Fellows Program—being placed in the National Wildlife Refuge System (which I later made a silly video about). During my time there, I tackled wildlife refuge related issues, including incorporating the human dimensions element into landscape conservation. As a fellow, I was given the opportunity to travel throughout the Northeastern United States to visit diverse landscapes protected by Refuges. I got to meet refuge managers and staff, friends groups, and other organizations who all shared a passion for threatened and endangered (T&E) species. At the end of my fellowship, I became convinced that conserving ecosystems was one of the most fundamental building blocks in protecting T&E species.

I remember getting a question from someone who found out I was a wildlife biologist, asked what animal I focused on, and I replied that I specialized in ecosystems. I joked that ecosystems aren’t as cuddly but in the end I think I am incorrect. Whenever you set yourself on moss in the woods while watching the interactions between various organisms, the soil, air, and water, you do get the sensation of warmth and belonging to something greater.

As I reflect on my journey on this day, I realize how deeply connected my life is to the Endangered Species Act. I was born into a world awakening to the harsh realities of biodiversity loss. The Act and I have aged together—the law having only been fifteen years old then—and in that time, I’ve tried to honor its principles. In its fifty years of defending imperiled wildlife, it has given another tool for the individual scientist, public servant, conservationist, and global citizen to preserve, restore, and protect the natural world for future generations.

The Biddeford Pool section of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge is a common shorebird spot and one of my favorite parts of the entire wildlife refuge. The wildlife refuge is home to multiple T&E species, including the piping plover. The birds typically feed in the tidal flats during low tide and roost in the salt pannes during high tide. It was nice simply observing them going about their day.
I must have watched this monarch caterpillar for 15 minutes eating milkweed. The monarch butterfly is an ESA candidate species due to dramatic population declines in the past twenty years. The species is remarkable, migrating every year across North America from Canada and the northern US to central Mexico and California.
The coastal redwoods are the keystone species of the California coastal forest ecosystem. Although coastal redwoods are not ESA listed on a species level, old-growth forests are protected as critical habitat for many animals covered under the ESA, including the coho salmon, Humboldt marten, Point Arena mountain beaver, Pacific fisher, northern spotted owl, and marbled murrelet.
The introduction to the Endangered Species Act Overview online class (FWS-ALC3114) I developed the content for. If you’re interested, the course is available for free to any person on Earth. I am proud of this course my team, and me as the project manager, developed when I was stationed at the National Conservation Training Center. All you have to do is register here, click ‘Request new account’, and contact Marci Phillips if you run into any trouble.
Giving policy guidance to an American ginseng exporter. Since he didn’t know how to use a computer and spoke primarily Mandarin Chinese, he drove all the way from Wisconsin to visit us in Virginia (1591 km!) before driving to New York to broker an export. Due to their high demand in Asia for traditional medicine, American ginseng is regulated under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which is found under Section 8 (International Cooperation) of the ESA.
A link to more photos reflecting my work with the ESA.


Anonymous says:

Thank you for sharing your informative on the 50th years in Endangered Species Act. The endangered species are very fortunate to have you advocating and protecting them. Thank you for your dedication and work.

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