Stand up for the imperiled Endangered Species Act

People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by Long Beach resident Tina Pirazzi, who has worked on a project to help preserves endangered species in Africa, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

The term “endangered species” is making headlines, which for many brings to mind elephants, rhinos, sharks, not to mention the proverbial “lions and tigers and bears.”

Having recently worked on a drone-centric project dedicated to the preservation of endangered species in Africa, specifically elephants and rhinos, watching the painful decline of any wildlife population is disturbing at the least, and downright gut-wrenching when it comes to witnessing the horrors of poaching.

Shifting to a more local focus, our Southern California “environment” is so sanitary that society is typically sheltered from the tragedies of watching species disappear, creating the illusion that extinction doesn’t happen here, but in fact, it does.

Although not at the forefront of the most iconic endangered species list, California is home to more than its own fair share of these most threatened plants and animals, including various birds, bats, owls, rabbits and wolves, all teetering on survival’s brink. Each population has its own unique story that explains how it ended up on this perilous list, and, not surprisingly, in nearly every case, human activity is a common denominator.

From habitat fragmentation, to climate change, polluted ecosystems, ocean acidification, and population growth, to name just a few, human impact has had devastating consequences on the environment. And with a snowballing effect gaining speed, many scientists believe the Earth is now entering a sixth mass extinction phase, when the planet loses more than 75 percent of its species in a short interval.

That said, human activity has also introduced policy to benefit wildlife through the Endangered Species Act (ESA), established by President Nixon in 1973. Relying exclusively on scientific data for decision making, the ESA has enjoyed a 90 percent  success rate, including six California animals ranked among the top 10 ESA success stories, bald eagles and humpback whales being most well-known.

All of which prompts the question why, if threats are overwhelming for so many species, and the ESA’s track record has proven successful, is the current administration proposing regulatory changes that will limit the power of the ESA to do its job?

In a nutshell these proposals make it more difficult to protect species, to add new species to the list, to make it easier to remove species currently on the list, to reduce protections for imperiled species, to make it more difficult to protect critical habitat, and to base listing decisions on unreliable economic analyses rather than on scientific data. Instead of protecting wildlife, these changes will have just the opposite effect.

Most recently, the House of Representatives passed a bill that will strip gray wolves of their protected status, and now their fate rests within the Senate to decide whether they will continue to be protected.

Watching our country’s priorities shift to devalue wildlife is disappointing. If the rhythm of our natural world is to survive as we know it, species across the board need help now more than ever before, making it the wrong time to be limiting the powers of the ESA.

Although we are fortunate to live in the majestic state of California, where day to day routines are largely unaffected by increasing numbers of canaries disappearing down the coal mine, taking a blasé attitude toward endangered species is a short-sighted choice.

Half a world away, the future of elephants and rhinos is precarious at best, and even though life in Long Beach won’t change if these species disappear, the planet will indeed be a different place. Closer to home, wolf populations certainly deserve a chance for recovery, and even closer, how fortunate we are to have bald eagles soaring over Catalina Island, literally an impossibility without the ESA.

When given an opportunity to stand up for “endangered species” – through social media, conservation organizations, political action – please consider advocating on behalf of the natural world, since the planet simply can’t function properly when too many residents disappear.

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