May 19, 2005  


Brad DeVries 202-772-0237

Clark Says Act Has Rescued Hundreds of Species from Extinction

[   Testimony   ] [   Background  [   Scientist Letter 

WASHINGTON -- Defenders of Wildlife Executive Vice President Jamie Rappaport Clark today told the U.S. Senate that the Endangered Species Act has prevented hundreds of species from tipping over the brink to extinction and that political interference in the Act's implementation has wrecked morale within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency she once headed. Clark's testimony before the Senate Fisheries, Wildlife and Water Subcommittee noted that of more than 1800 species that have been under the Act's protection, only 9 have been declared extinct, a phenomenal 99 percent success rate.

"The Act's opponents have it exactly backwards. The Endangered Species Act is the alarm bell, not the cause of the emergency," Clark said. "When that alarm sounds, it means we are driving species toward extinction, increasing the risk to the web of life, and therefore to ourselves."

Clark noted that the Endangered Species Act is the nation's primary tool to address the growing extinction crisis that virtually all professional biologists warn has begun. She pointed to a letter to the Subcommittee leadership yesterday from E.O. Wilson of Harvard and nine other prominent scientists that outlined the magnitude of the problem. While mammals get the most attention, everything is affected: fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and plants as well. By Duke University professor Stuart Pimm's count, for example, 11 percent of birds, or 1,100 species out of the world's nearly 10,000, teeter on the edge of extinction; some of these 1,100 are expected not to live far into this century.

"When the nation rejoiced last month at the return of the Ivory-billed woodpecker, Interior Secretary Norton said that we rarely have a second chance to save wildlife from extinction. But the Endangered Species Act is all about first chances to do that, about preventing wildlife extinction now, just in case nature is out of miracles," Clark said.

She testified to the Act's tremendous record of stemming the tide of extinction, while noting a number of things it was never designed to do. The Endangered Species Act was never intended to prevent species from becoming threatened or endangered; that is the job of "other conservation laws" those that protect our water, air, and land. The Endangered Species Act is
meant to prevent extinction when we have failed at-risk species by not passing, not enforcing, not implementing, or not funding those other measures."

She also noted that the Act is still assisting at-risk species, despite pervasive political interference over the past four years with the science and implementation of the Act, and that this interference has devastated morale within the Fish and Wildlife Service.

"Never have I seen so many decisions overturned, so much scientific advice ignored, and so much intrusion into the daily work of rank and file Fish and Wildlife Service professionals as I do today, all by political appointees," she testified. "I worked side-by-side with these dedicated, professional people for many years. I know how much they are struggling, how frustrated they are because they can't do their jobs. They tell me. I talk with these folks and a picture emerges of an agency under siege from within, an agency, created and designed to protect our nation's wildlife heritage, now seemingly more concerned with protecting the interests of those for whom wildlife and habitat are obstacles to be overcome on the way to a bigger bottom line."

Clark noted a number of areas in which positive improvements could be made to the Act, so that it can work better for all stakeholders. But she cautioned against efforts to undermine the Act under the rhetoric of "reform." She noted moves to destroy the nation's ability to protect habitat for species at risk, as laid out in a bill last year by Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Cal.), or to
subject scientific work within the Act to explicit political oversight, as envisioned in legislation in the last Congress by Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Senator Gordon Smith (R-Ore.)


Defenders of Wildlife is a leading nonprofit conservation organization recognized as one of the nation's most progressive advocates for wildlife and its habitat. With more than 480,000 members and supporters, Defenders of Wildlife is an effective leader on endangered species