Defenders View

Defenders President Jamie Rappaport Clark, © Krista Schlyer

There have been many victories under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) over the years. But quite a few did not come because our government did the right thing. They came because conservation groups like Defenders saw the government was failing to comply with the law and used the tool of last resort: the courts. 

Recently, Defenders won protections for imperiled sea turtles and shorebirds that depend on the beaches of Cape Hatteras National Seashore. We forced the creation of speed zones to protect endangered right whales migrating along the Atlantic coast from ship strikes. We also stopped night hunting of coyotes to protect endangered red wolves and ended a policy for Mexican gray wolves that was suppressing their population at unsustainable numbers. 

These victories and many more are because citizens and conservation groups have the right to sue to enforce the ESA. Access to the courts is a fundamental American right, as sacred as the right to free speech, and an essential tool for holding the government accountable. Thanks to this right, private citizens and conservation organizations have the same access to justice as wealthy corporations and special economic interests. 

But there are some in Congress who want to take away this right. Numerous stacked hearings have been held and bills have been drafted to keep citizens out of court. Without public participation in the enforcement of the ESA, the effectiveness of the law would be drastically curtailed, which is exactly what its opponents in Congress want. 

We are currently in a dangerous political cycle, with limited support from the Obama administration and a constant whittling away by Congress of the budget to protect and restore endangered species, as well as legislative efforts to override science and delist imperiled species that still need protections. This results in an under-resourced and ineffective effort to maintain our stewardship responsibilities. Without continued citizen access to the courts, industrial interests and the wealthy will have the last word on what is saved and what is lost from our nation’s wildlife heritage. And we know what that got us before: polluted air and water, endangered wildlife and ruined public lands. 

Jamie Rappaport Clark, President

More Articles from Spring 2015

honeybee, © Dolores Rose
Keeping the world abuzz and blooming is crucial 
to biodiversity and our own food supply
Gunnison sage-grouse,  © Joel Sartore
Today fewer than 5,000 survive in seven scattered populations in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah. But things are starting to look up.
Carpenter Bee,  © Helena Jacoba/Flickr
Want to help native pollinators? Here are some bee basics for your backyard.
Mexican Gray Wolf, © Joel Sartore/
New FWS rule fails to help Mexican gray wolves

You may also be interested in:

Habitat Conservation
For all its unique beauty, the Arctic Refuge is under assault. The oil industry and its political allies continue to launch attacks to open this national treasure to destructive oil and gas drilling, while climate change threatens to disrupt its habitats faster than wildlife can adapt.
Spectacled Eider,  © Gary Kramer/Gary
In the Magazine
Climate change is upsetting the delicate balance that the spectacled eider needs to survive. Still recovering from decades of damage by lead poisoning, now this diving duck is facing a winter food shortage.
In the Magazine
If you were driving a car toward a cliff, would you step on the gas pedal or hit the brakes? Would you try to stop the car or keep driving, thinking that any injury you sustained would be patched up in the hospital later?