Endangered Species Act

Endangered Species Act
Research finds public support crosses political lines
Despite near total eradication in the lower 48 states, wolves like this pup in Wisconsin are on the road to recovery thanks to protection afforded them under the Endangered Species Act.

Introduction by Sherrie Whaley; Article by Misti Crane

Say the words "Endangered Species Act," and many envision magnificent grizzly bears, soaring eagles or maybe even gray wolves. But the act is much, much more than that. It actually protects not only endangered or threatened mammals, but also birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, flowering and non-flowering plants and invertebrates. 

Signed into law by President Nixon in 1973, the Endangered Species Act has safeguarded fragile animals and plants for 45 years. It aspires to prevent extinction, recover imperiled plants and animals, and protect the ecosystems on which they depend. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service are the two federal agencies responsible for implementation of the Act.

A species is listed as either endangered or threatened, depending on its status and the degree of threat it faces. An endangered species is considered closer to extinction, while a threatened species is one that is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

The Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid is considered a threatened plant in Ohio.

In July 2018, a total of 1,661 endangered or threatened plants and animals are under federal protection in the U.S. alone. In Ohio, 22 animals and six plants are listed as endangered or threatened. See the complete Ohio list here. 

Although credited with saving bald eagles and more than 200 other animals from extinction, efforts to chip away at the law persist. Ohio State writer Misti Crane looks at timely CFAES research related to the Endangered Species Act below.


Most Americans support Endangered Species Act despite increasing efforts to curtail it

Jeremy Bruskotter

By Misti Crane, Ohio State Research News

Just about any news story about the Endangered Species Act includes a prominent mention of the controversy around the 45-year-old law.

But when you ask ordinary Americans about the act they’re mostly supportive, according to survey data reported in a new study led by CFAES associate professor of environment and natural resources, Jeremy Bruskotter.

Roughly four out of five Americans support the act, and only one in 10 oppose it, found a survey of 1,287 Americans. Support has remained stable for the past two decades, the researchers report in the journal Conservation Letters.

“Every time the Endangered Species Act is in the news, you hear about how controversial it is. But the three most recent studies show that, on average, approximately 83 percent of the public supports it, and that’s sort of the opposite of controversial,” Bruskotter said.

Survey respondents who identified with a range of eight interest groups – including hunters and property-rights advocates – were all at least 68 percent supportive, the study found. And support was consistent throughout various regions of the United States.

About 74 percent of conservatives, 77 percent of moderates and 90 percent of liberals said they supported the act.

The highest percentage of active opposition to the act was found in the property rights advocates group – 21 percent said they’re against it.

“I don’t think at any time, maybe since the act was passed, have there been this many members of Congress working in direct opposition to the act, but that doesn’t mean that they’re acting in the interests of the people they represent.”Jeremy Bruskotter

“In the 1990s and 2000s, a typical year saw roughly five attempts to amend the act or curtail its protections. But from 2011 to 2015, there were about 33 legislative attacks per year – and there have been almost 150 in the last two years alone,” Bruskotter said.

“I don’t think at any time, maybe since the act was passed, have there been this many members of Congress working in direct opposition to the act, but that doesn’t mean that they’re acting in the interests of the people they represent,” he said.

Bruskotter, an associate professor of environment and natural resources and a conservation policy expert, said he suspected the public’s impression of the Endangered Species Act might not align with the perspective of business and political interests debating its future and seeking to roll back its reach.

“Scholars, the media and others keep talking about how controversial the act is and we wanted to know whether that was really true in the population at large,” he said.

It’s indisputable that the Endangered Species Act – which is designed to protect and restore animals, plants, insects and fish at risk of extinction – is under fire in Washington, D.C., Bruskotter said.

The American Bald Eagle, once near extinction, is a success story of the Endangered Species Act.

Bruskotter and his colleagues looked at data from a 2014 online survey sent to a sample of the U.S. general public, and census data, to conduct their analysis.

They examined results from two polls and two studies (including this new survey) in the last two decades to see if there was evidence of shifting feelings about the act over time. Support varied from a low of 79 percent to a high of 90 percent, and opposition ranged from a low of 7 percent to a high of 16 percent across these studies.

Interest groups included in the study were environmentalists, animal rights advocates, conservationists, wildlife advocates, gun rights advocates, farmers and ranchers, hunters and property rights advocates. Survey respondents were linked to a group if they identified with its mission – they didn’t have to be directly tied to a particular organization.

Ohio is included in the historical range of the threatened copper-belly water snake.

Bruskotter said he’d like elected officials and others in policy-making positions to consider what the vast majority of Americans think about existing protections and to not let vocal minorities drown out the will of the American people.

“Government should be responsive to its citizens, but our research suggests that is not how government is working, at least not when it comes to environmental policy,” he said.

His study co-author, John Vucetich of Michigan Technological University, agreed.

“The Endangered Species Act is a genuine point of American pride; it’s considered one of the best laws in the world for conserving biodiversity,” Vucetich said. “So why don’t our representatives represent us?”

Other Ohio State researchers who worked on the study were Kristina Slagle, Ramiro Berardo and Robyn Wilson. Ajay Singh of California State University also was on the research team.​

Additional endangered and threatened species include:

The Endangered Species Act has been prominent in the news as more than two dozen pieces of legislation, policy initiatives and amendments designed to weaken the law have been either introduced or voted on in Congress or proposed by the administration. 

Within two weeks in July 2018, a sampling of news coverage included:
Reuters TV - Trump Admin Eyes Changes to Endangered Species Act
FOX News - Sweeping Changes Proposed for Endangered Species Act
Washington Post - Endangered Species Act Stripped of Key Provisions in Trump Administration Proposal
National Geographic - Inside the Effort to Kill Protections for Endangered Animals 
The New York Times - Lawmakers, Lobbyists and the Administration Join Forces to Overhaul the Endangered Species Act