Thesis: A perfect piece of legislation is the one addressing the main problems when implemented. The Endangered Species Act has failed to address the challenges it was intended to solve. The world has continued to register rapid extinction of many plants, birds and animals. What is even more annoying is that even the species that were prescribed by the act as the most endangered still continue to dwindle in numbers. This, however, does not imply that the Endangered Species Act has failed to safeguard endangered species completely, most species are in the danger of extinction because of climate change, human actions and ecological changes, among other factors. Therefore, the Endangered Species Act must be amended to ensure that certain species are protected from extinction.
The world is made up of various ecosystems to which various animals, plants and birds belong and they play different roles in their respective food chains. This means that each species is rather important in its unique way to the food chain it belongs to. For example, predators keep the number of producers in check by feeding on the prey as the prey also feeds on the producers. If the predator is absent, the prey would overwhelm the producers with their unchecked numbers thus leading to famine. This is how each organism in the ecosystem remains pivotal in his or her own way. A food chain is like a link that once broken would lead to a serious disconnect in the activity of the Earth. A good example would be the nitrogen fixing bacteria whose presence is often overlooked and yet whose absence causes some level of soil infertility.1 They are very tiny organisms that may seem unimportant and yet they support the producers who then support the prey and thus the predators as well. When a given species is at the risk of extinction, there are very many things that could happen. First, the organisms that are endangered often have some aesthetic value owing to their rareness. The reason for extinction is nearly always attributed to human activities like sports hunting, property development and human settlement, among others. It is important to note that nature is originally configured to take care of itself but with the expanding interests and interference of mankind this ability is being continuously challenged. The main aim here is to understand the activities that must be stopped in order to let nature be itself, with its numerous challenges and victories as well as mistakes. When the Endangered Species Act of 1973 was drafted and then passed, it became evident that there was a critical need to stay away from nature and let her rejuvenate itself rather than purport to be agents of natural selection. The only provision for hunting is with respect to the food chain concept, according to which mankind is at the top of the food chain today due to various technological and cultural advancements. This paper considers the technicalities of the Endangered Species Act including the reasons why it is not as effective as it was expected to be when it was drafted.
The Endangered Species Act
Hunting was a major activity back in the 1900’s when the first call for the natural environment protection was made.2 The bison and the passenger pigeon were both disappearing at an alarming rate and both were being hunted for the market and the table. The developments that were also going on led to the destruction of natural habitats as people sought to build towns and cities in areas that were previously untouched. The growing civilizations further endangered a lot of species to a point that something had to be done by the relevant authorities to curb the looming extinction of priceless wildlife. This awakening, brought about by George Bird Grinnell and Joel Asaph Allen, was the first step towards the protection of endangered species, with the first act being passed in 1900.3 The Lacey Act of 1900 sought to regulate the commercial market for the wildlife where interstate trade in animals and plants obtained against the state laws was forbidden.4 After this law, a lot of others were enacted to prevent hunting and extinction of a number of wildlife species including animals, birds and fish and land and water conservation. The Act of 1965 provided money for the acquisition of land that was considered a natural habitat for an endangered species.5
The Endangered Species Act first came into action in 1996, permitting the listing and protection of the native species of the United States as endangered and requiring their protection from any activities that could lead to their extinction.6 This Act underwent a number of amendments and was then completely rewritten and passed in 1973, thus making it the Endangered Species Act of 1973, which had more measures for the nature and wildlife conservation in the US with severe penalties for violators of the provided rules and regulations.7 This act considered the destruction of habitats as well as hunting as the most destructive aspects of human activities towards the endangered species. It is thus under President Nixon that something was really done to protect the native species of the US from extinction caused by hunters, property developers and entrepreneurs as well as naturalists.
Today the Endangered Species Act is rather more advanced in terms of the naming of the endangered species but the objectives remain similar to those of the Act passed in 1973.8 The endangered species are protected from all sorts of danger that threaten their continued survival including the ecosystems to which they belong. This thus implies the protection and reclamation of their natural habitats and the prevention of their removal from these habitats be it for educational, commercial or recreational purposes. The idea is to let nature be, by limiting the human interference in various ecosystems.
The implementation of this Act has been rather extensive so far given that all states currently recognize the need to protect the endangered species; thus the focus is on the survival and restoration of the endangered and threatened species across the US. In order to ensure that the Act is relevant, there have been numerous amendments aimed at generating interest in the plight of the animals listed among the endangered species and thus protected by the law. In many instances The Act has required the provision of a critical habitat, especially considering that loss of habitat is the greatest threat to the endangered species.
When the journey towards protecting the endangered species started, there were a number of outcomes that could have been foreseen. The first expectation was a reduction in the number of sports hunters or at least in the practice of sport hunting with respect to the endangered species. Hunting had played a significant role in the reduction of game species like the bison and other animals. Another expectation was the restraint of development in areas that were considered natural habitats. This would imply that the developers should stop destroying forests, swamps and marshlands that were considered to be the natural habitats of the wildlife. Habitat destruction is by far the most significant way to make these species extinct. Another expectation was that the government would acquire all the natural habitats from private owners to ensure that they remained protected. This would involve studying various species that are native to the US and determining their natural habitats before starting negotiations for acquisition from their private owners. The final expectation was that within a relatively short period, the endangered species would be delisted, having been protected for long enough to facilitate their regeneration as a species. By reclaiming their natural habitat and limiting human interference in their ecosystems, this law was expected to give these plants, birds and animals a new lease on life thus allowing them to rebuild their numbers and stop being endangered within the shortest possible period of time.
The Endangered Species
So far, there are over 2000 species listed as endangered or threatened under the endangered species act.9 Those being considered are also quite a number, implying that within a short time there are likely to be far too many species being protected by the Act. It should be noted, however, that getting on this list is not an easy thing for various species. There are a comprehensive number of criteria that must be met by birds, plants and animals before qualifying as an endangered or threatened species. One of the criteria is that the species have to be threatened by destruction or modification of their natural habitat. This has been considered the most significant requirement given that most of the experienced extinctions happened due to destruction or human invasion of the species habitat. Another criterion that could qualify a species to be enlisted as endangered or threatened is if it is overused in recreational, commercial or educational contexts. This endangers the species by spiking its demand much higher and faster than it can regenerate itself thus requiring protection to prevent extinction. There are a number of other criteria that qualify various species to be listed for protection but these two remain the most commonly used for the species already enlisted and some of those that are waiting.
Main Factors that Lead to an Endangered State
At the time of the first discussion on wildlife conservation and protection, it was noted that the numbers of the bison and passenger pigeons dropped drastically to a point where it was unacceptable to sit back and do nothing about it. This means that the first challenge to the natural existence is hunting, where people engage in the destruction of otherwise peacefully existing species for sports, leisure or food. Hunting was initially considered a part of the natural selection mechanism presenting the concept of the food chain. It must, however, be noted that the human population has increased drastically and the dependence on the wildlife for dietary sustenance is no longer a possibility from a practical perspective. Hunting is thus one of the reasons that make various species dwindle in their numbers and thus the first step to dealing with the endangerment of American animal, plant and bird species is to regulate hunting and enforce stiff penalties for those who do not respect these laws.
In the 1900’s, there were a lot of new establishments that had to be constructed including roads, commercial and residential estates, schools, industries and recreational parks among other things.10 This was a part of the growth experienced across the country and thus it was required to clear large pieces of land that were otherwise considered wild and untouched. These developments were aimed at making the life of people better and more comfortable as demanded by the social and economic growth that came with modernization and technological advancements. These developments thus played a big role in the destruction of ‘idle’ land that was a natural habitat to wildlife species. It should be appreciated that wild land is not idle and that more often than not, even the barest place on earth has a species that considers it home. Destroying these habitats rendered the native species homeless thus causing their extinction. Unfortunately, this trend continues to this day, with new infrastructural developments being planned for various parts of the country regardless of the wildlife that could be affected. Efforts have been made to protect the natural habitats but there is still a lot of destruction in areas that are yet to be protected.
Initially, the population of the Earth was quite small as natural selection ensured that the numbers were kept manageable. With science and technology, man has become the most powerful creature on the planet with the ability to not only live a long life but also procreate thus filling the planet with his offspring. The level of population growth today implies that the Earth is overburdened and thus other animals, birds and plants are outcompeted due to inequality. This can be explained as a problem that has led to an in the food chain and ecosystems imbalance as there are by far more humans than plant, bird or animal species on earth. With too many predators, it is only natural that most of the wild game became extinct due to the overdependence and thus exhaustion as a source of dietary sustenance.
Disease and Predation
There have been a number of cases where some species were wiped out due to disease and predation. Diseases are considered a natural factor; and not much can be done especially if the species has been left alone and devoid of any kind of human interference even within an educational platform. In such a case, the entire species could be wiped out well before a solution is found for their predicament. As for predators, some species are at lower levels of the food chain and in cases where those above them increase in number they are likely to suffer from excessive predation. The end result would be a wiped out species given their inability to procreate as fast as they are being hunted down.
Floods or Droughts
Another natural factor that contributes greatly to the species extinction is floods and droughts that in one way or another affect the lives of these species. Floods, for example, would destroy their habitats by means of trees that are felled or layers of soil that are washed away, and even making an ecosystem dysfunctional by changing its entire topography. By so doing, the floods render the habitat inhabitable and in some cases even kill the species in the process. There are a number of birds, plants and animals that do not cope well with water in its excesses as it happens during floods, and it is thus understandable that they get affected badly in such instances.
As for droughts, they cause starvation and dehydration, thus prompting either evolution aimed at adapting to the new conditions or natural selection which means that only the strongest survive. In some cases, only those with adapted characteristics are likely to survive but this is not always the case as entire species could fail to adapt which leads to extinction. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and other natural disasters are also general threats to the survival of these species depending on their habitats and the extent to which they have been naturally configured to survive them.
Global warming has been blamed for so many things including the extinction of the wooly mammoths of the ice age.11 This is, however, considered a speculation in some circles and thus can not be used as an explanation for some of the endangered species going extinct. Though it must however be noted that climate change leads to migrations in the bird and animal’ world but the plants are unable to move. Thus while animals and birds may be able to press on and win the battle against extinction in the face of climate change, the plants have to adapt or get wiped off the face of the Earth. Many could not adapt and thus became extinct over the years. This is one of the factors that can be eliminated with the help of collaboration on environmental conservation beyond national or cultural borders.
The Realized Outcomes of the Act
Since the time the Endangered Species Act was passed, a lot of activity has been registered with respect to the conservation of wildlife in their natural habitat. As a result, there are a number of outcomes than can be attributed to the Act so far, some being positive and others negative. Nevertheless, it must be noted that the steps taken towards the implementation of this Act have been consequential and thus must be appreciated in the context of their outcomes.
Protecting the Endangered Species
The Act was formulated to protect the plants, birds and animals that were considered to be under the threat of extinction depending on their unique circumstances. This means that they had to ensure that these threats were eliminated passing legal enforcements that limited human activities that could harm the species. In order to ensure that the species are effectively protected, the government has had to participate in the protection of entire ecosystems through acquisitions and prohibitions with the help of various agencies. Acquisitions have been especially useful in areas where private land owners had the power to destroy the natural habitats in favor of more economical alternatives such as farming or property development among others. The government would then opt to purchase the property at a considerable price and then keep it in its natural state rather than let the owner do what they want with the habitat. In this way, the government is able to protect the endangered species from the destruction of their natural habitats. The prohibitions, on the other hand, have gone a long way to stop the hunting or capturing of these species for commercial, dietary, educational and other recreational purposes. By making the species illegal in the context of individual possession, the Act has been able to keep people away from them, thus allowing them to thrive once again away from the interference of humanity.
Rejuvenating the Numbers of Species
So far, more than ten species enlisted under the endangered species have recorded a growth in their population. This means that the efforts made towards protecting them have been rather fruitful and whatever the factors threatening their existence were, they have been alleviated or successfully eliminated depending on the circumstances. The whooping crane and the red wolf are examples of the species that managed to grow their populations after being listed as endangered and thus being protected by the Act. Other more fortunate species like the bald eagle and the peregrine falcon were even delisted after showing such remarkable results of the species protection.12 The rejuvenation of the species populations is by far the greatest achievement of the Act.
Extinction of Some Species
It is a reasonable observation that some species actually became extinct while on the list of endangered species. This may be because the action towards their protection was taken too late or despite the fact they were on the list nothing of significance was really done. Another possibility concerning this factor could be that nature is in its own way very capable of deciding on the course of evolution and thus the species had to disappear like others did in the past. Regardless of the reason behind this kind of extinction, it must be considered that the role of the Act and its implementation is to prevent extinction of species. Therefore, while there are cases in which nothing can reverse the course of nature, the damage reflects on the Act as a rather limited weapon against the extinction of animal, bird and plant species. Another challenge relating to the implementation is the fact that some animal and plant species that were categorized as endangered were not in danger of extinction because of the factors outlined in the Act as the cause factors. Some plant and animal species are facing the danger of extinction because of ecological changes. Naturally, species that adapt to the changes in the environment better enhance their chances of survival. On the contrary, animals that take long to adjust to ecological changes risk to become extinct. For instance, it has been discovered that big animal species do not adopt to ecological changes as easily as small ones. Therefore, as changes in the ecology occur, huge animals perish .
Justification for the Act’s Failures
It can be agreed that extinction has been the basis of natural balance over the years as the planet continues to change and requires those that are best suited to survive in the prevailing circumstances while the species unable to adapt die off. Extinction thus not only creates space in various ecosystems but also allows for evolution and thus development of new species that are much stronger and more resilient and can thus survive in the changing environment of the planet. This means that while the Act was meant to stop the extinction of various species, it cannot be expected that extinction will be eliminated from the face of the earth completely. This is nature’s way of renewing itself and the fact that humanity is displeased with the means does not imply that it will stop. As far as extinction is concerned, Nature’s mystery brings certain beauty to the idea of an entire species dying off. The animals, birds and plants that became extinct while on the list of endangered species can thus be said to have reached their expiry date on the earth’s calendar of events.
Sectarian Implementation and Exploitation of Loopholes in the Act
Like any other Act, the Endangered Species Act has had some loopholes that keep being amended in order to cover all fronts. Despite the positive motivation behind the Act, a number of unscrupulous individuals and organizations have been identifying and exploiting loopholes including the sale of endangered species to roadside zoos and the ‘donations’ that are transported across state lines in exchange for ‘monetary donations ’thus evading the commercial tag of the exchange. This has continued to endanger the existence of species that are protected under the Act.
Globally, the Endangered Species Act has not been perfect in most cases. This is due to the cultural differences and preferences that exist in the world. For instance, China or rather the people of China have attached sentimental value on ivory and rhino horns. This scenario complicates the situation given the fact that desperate Chinese are willing to pay large sums of money to get ivory products. Another factor that complicates the situation further is that most elephants and rhinos reside in regions that are occupied by poor people who will do anything to kill these animals and sell them. Environmentalists have estimated that the increase of Chinese presence in Africa, for instance, has caused the growth of poaching activities by almost 200 percent. This statistics clearly points to the differing opinions as far as protection of endangered species in concerned.
It is also important to note that some of the natural habitats are yet to be discovered and fully protected by the government. The process of listing species as endangered and protecting the entire ecosystems on which they depend is often very long and riddled with challenges thus leaving an open window through which the species can suffer immense destruction. It is thus important to streamline the implementation of the Act in such a way that the time taken to enlist a species and accord it the protection that it deserves is shortened. In this way, the implementation would be complete rather than the partial as it can be seen today.
There is a lot of negativity as far as this Act is concerned due to the fact that most of the original goals and objectives are yet to be realized, more than three decades after the first enactment of the Act. It should be considered that among other things, the Act was expected to reduce the interference of humanity in the natural habitats of wildlife. This implies staying away from the wilderness, and leaving nature to take care of herself. The challenge within this approach, however, is that humanity is a part of nature in a way that one cannot be separated from the other.13 People will continue to need land for expansion as the population keeps growing, just as the planet will continue renewing itself through natural selection and other mechanisms of evolution. It would thus be unrealistic to condemn the Act based on its inability to separate humanity from the wilderness.
Another point of criticism with respect to unrealized goals is the species that became extinct being on the Act’s list of endangered species. It must be appreciated that nature has its own devices concerning rejuvenation and extinction is one of them. And while humanity plays a big role in accelerating the extinction of various species, not much can be done when the planet changes in a way that is not suitable for a particular species. Extinction is a way of balancing an ecosystem naturally and thus when everything is done to preserve a species and it still disappears, acceptance is better than blames put on the authorities and communities.
There are a number of species that have been enlisted as endangered or threatened and thus protected for over three decades now and are not delisted yet as that their numbers are still very low. In such a case, there are two possible explanations that can be given. It could be that the species is at its extinction point in history and the planet is no longer conducive for its existence.14 This implies that this particular species is dying off and thus the rate at which they procreate is much slower than the rate at which they are dying. As such, their population is likely to have a gradual downward trend thus keeping them on the endangered list for far too long. Natural extinction occurs very slowly and the fact that the species is protected from human interference implies that it is disappearing naturally and thus slowly. This explains being in the endangered list for thirty or so years without a potential of being delisted as yet. The second possibility could be that the measures taken to protect this species are inadequate or rather incomplete. The ecosystem may be exposed to human influences in the form of pollution, poisoning or even game hunting for dietary purposes as opposed to commercial and recreational which can be easily detected. Such loopholes are highly speculated about with respect to this Act especially in the upper class circles of the society where the rich feel entitled to the endangered species based on their ability to own wild ranches and pay for hunting licenses. Either way, the extinction takes place as turning it around would require employing the miracles of nature.
The Endangered Species Act was crafted with the most noble inspirations, the preservation of species that were otherwise threatened by human activities. The fact that it took more than 20 years to refine the Act and ensure adequate measures for the identification and protection of endangered species is simply a manifestation of how much work was required to protect animals, birds and plants from extinction. Upon its passing, the Act set out to ensure that the species are fully protected through the protection of their entire ecosystems helping their survival. On one hand, this opened up the dilemma of private ownership of land where the government had to step in and conduct acquisitions if the private owners were unable to guarantee their collaboration in protecting the area as a natural habitat of an endangered species. At this point, it should be noted that while hunting was the great danger to the nation’s wildlife, the more potent enemy was the developer with his talent for destroying natural environments in favor of concrete jungles. This means that while prohibition of hunting played a pivotal role in the protection of endangered species, it was not enough and thus the authorities had to do more in terms of the ecosystems in their entirety. On the other hand, acquisition of land for the preservation of natural habitats favored the native species by ensuring that they continued to exist in their most natural habitat safely and devoid of human interference. When considering the effectiveness of the Act, it is also important to note the number of species that have been saved from extinction. The concept of extinction is the nature’s weapon for sustainability and some species must die if an ecosystem is to survive through a given season on the planet. It is thus important to consider that the triumphs are more significant than the fails as there are cases when a species is simply meant to disappear and even the most comprehensive protection laws are unable to reverse it. The Act can thus be considered very relevant and effective in saving the species that can be saved, and delaying the extinction of those that cannot be saved. It must be appreciated that nature is capable of self sustenance and there are times when all the humanity can do is to avoid interferin in nature’s business. The outcomes are often beyond the control of any law or implementation.