Have you ever wondered what that strange-looking fish portrayed in Waterkeeper Alliance’s logo is? It is an Atlantic sturgeon! Atlantic sturgeon have changed so little since the time of the dinosaurs that they are considered “living fossils,” and can get up to fifteen feet in length and live as long as sixty years. These fish were once abundant on the eastern coast of the United States, but overfishing, water pollution, and other threats decimated the population.
In addition to benefiting from cleaner waterways thanks to the Clean Water Act, the Atlantic sturgeon is protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA is a powerful law that protects endangered and threatened animals and plants by stopping people from harming them or their habitat. Since its passage in 1973, the ESA has successfully prevented over a thousand plants and animals from going extinct.
John Lipscomb, Patrol Boat Captain and Vice President for Advocacy at Hudson Riverkeeper, reflected on the importance of the ESA in protecting Hudson River fish like the Atlantic sturgeon:
“Here on the Hudson, the ESA means that the hardest pressed species — like Atlantic sturgeon — are at least considered when projects like submarine cables and pipelines, bridges, and shoreline development are proposed. One arrogant developer recently stated that he chose to route his project in the river because ‘fish don’t vote.’ Not quite, Mister. The ESA does give certain species a vote, a voice: Any project that could remotely affect endangered species is required to employ additional safeguards and to work around the seasons which are important to the species.
As powerful as the ESA is, we must always remember that its power to protect relies on the will to enforce its protections. Writing safeguards on paper doesn’t protect fish, enforcing them does. Here on the Hudson, we have seen a dismal failure to protect endangered Atlantic Sturgeon which are being killed by vessel strikes at a bridge replacement project. In this case, the federal government has failed to protect the fish. So, instead of debating ways to weaken the ESA, we should fully enforce it!”
Despite the immense importance of preventing species extinction — especially in light of the added threat of a changing, volatile climate — some members of Congress want to weaken the ESA. The Center for Biological Diversity reports that the current Congress has proposed at least 63 bills attacking the ESA.
The provisions in these bills vary, but they all have a similar theme — weakening protections for threatened and endangered species to save industry and other special interests money. There are three particularly problematic bills that have been advancing in the House of Representatives. H.R. 717, the “Listing Reform Act,” would make economic considerations a more important factor than protecting species. H.R. 3131, the “Endangered Species Litigation Reasonableness Act,” would make it harder for concerned citizens to challenge government decisions under the ESA. And H.R. 1274, the “State, Tribal, and Local Species Transparency and Recovery Act,” would distort what information the government relies on when deciding whether to protect a species.
This week, please join us in standing up for all the endangered and threatened plants and animals that deserve protection. Call your members of Congress and tell them you support the ESA. Here are some points you can make on that call:
I support the Endangered Species Act because of the protections it provides for vulnerable animals and plants.
I think a strong, effective Endangered Species Act is necessary for preventing extinction.
The ESA is especially vital these days, as ecosystems are becoming stressed and changing as a result of climate change.
I know that many bills have been introduced to change aspects of the ESA, including over sixty bills that would decrease protections for endangered and threatened species.
I am asking you to oppose any efforts to weaken or undermine the ESA.
Your message will be even more powerful if you personalize it — for example, let your members of Congress know about any endangered species you are particularly worried about.
Feature image by NOAA Fisheries