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Twenty-twenty three is the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The act was signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon in 1983.  He declared that the laws before this time were inadequate,and he called for the Ninety-third United States Congress to pass comprehensive legislation to protect endangered species.

One of the earlier laws that protected wildlife was the Lacy Act of 1900, named after Iowa Congressman John F. Lacy from Oskaloosa, Iowa. This was the first federal law that regulated commercial animal markets, prohibiting the interstate commerce of animals killed in violation of state game laws.  This law basically stopped the killing of wild game for commercial meat markets and gave some endangered species a chance to recover.  

Since colonial times more than 500 species in the United States have become extinct.  Game birds like the passenger pigeon and the heath hen are gone forever and even more living things are on the verge of extinction.  Iowa has 47 animals and 64 plants that are listed as threatened or endangered.  The prairie chicken, a symbol of Iowa’s past prairie heritage, is barely hanging on in southwest Iowa.  

Most people have never heard of many of these endangered species, like the least grape fern, bog bean, Higgins clam and blue spotted salamander.  If the plant does not have a pretty flower or if the animal is seldom seen, people are not aware of its existence, so they don’t appreciate its value in the natural world.

We should be concerned about these endangered animals and plants because all living things are interconnected in the earth’s delicate web of life.  The extinction of one species could have devastating effects upon other plants and animals and sometimes on an entire ecosystem. 

An example is the decline of fresh water mussels or clams in our local rivers.  Clams feed by filtering organic material from the river water and help keep the streams clean.  However, their populations are declining and rivers are becoming more polluted.  The increase in pollution causes a decrease in game fish, such as smallmouth bass and walleye,  in Iowa's streams.  These fish need clean water.  

Another reason to be concerned about endangered species is that many living things contain chemicals that can be used for medicine.  Penicillin and other antibiotics are produced from mold; also the venom of a poisonous snake in the Amazon Jungle is the source of a blood pressure medication.  A little shrubby yew bush that grows in the northwest United States and Canada, which was once thought to be worthless, is now the source of a cancer fighting drug.   Wild varieties of plants are being studied to find the cure for crop diseases or the secrets to higher yielding harvest.  If they become extinct potentially useful products may be lost.

Protecting endangered species also has a philosophical reason which is living things have an intrinsic value have the right to exist.  The United States Congress addressed this in the preamble to the Endangered Species Act of 1983, recognizing that living things “…are of esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the nation and its people.” 


The Endangered Species Act is one of the most important conservation laws that this country has ever passed.   It has been 95% successful at preventing the extinction of wildlife under its protection and the ESA has put many animals on the path to recovery, such as the bald eagle, grizzly bear, whales and sea turtles.


Now the ESA itself is endangered and under attack.    During the last presidential administration over one hundred bills were introduced in congress that would weaken the Endangered Species Act.  For several years in the past the Republican Party had a plank in its platform to completely repeal the Endangered Species Act, because some legislators have considered the ESA a hindrance to economic development.


When the 118th Congress convenes in January 2023,  some members are planning to introduce legislation in that will seriously weaken the ESA.  I urge you to tell Iowa’s representatives in congress to be a strong voice for wildlife and the environment.  Encourage them to support and strengthen the Endangered Species Act that was passed fifty years ago by the 93rd Congress of the United States and signed into law by President Richard M.Nixon. 


Years ago President Theodore Roosevelt said, "Be aware of short-sighted men who in there greed and selfishness will, if permitted, rob our country of half its charm by their reckless extermination of all useful and beautiful wild things".  From The Green Roosevelt.



The American Bald Eagle was saved from extinction by the Endangered Species Act.

It was removed from the endangered species list in 1995 and the numbers of eagles are 

increasing in Iowa and across the United States.

The trumpeter swan, brown pelican and the osprey are birds that were once considered to be on the verge of extinction, but due to conservation efforts and the Endangered Species Act they have been removed from the list.

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