During my two terms as governor of New Mexico, I often found myself in the middle of challenging discussions involving a wide range of my constituents about what was necessary to protect the state’s most imperiled plants and animals.
For me, those discussions always began with one question: What does the best available science suggest we should do?
What I found is that when we let the science lead, we end up in a good place. And that’s exactly how Congress envisioned it when it passed the Endangered Species Act 40 years ago this year.
Now, during the month Americans all over the country are celebrating Endangered Species Day, which falls each year on May 17, is a good time to stop and acknowledge what the Act has accomplished in its first four decades.
And when it comes to protecting wildlife from extinction, we don’t have to look far to see its power right here in New Mexico.
The population of Gila trout grew from about 7,600 fish in 1975 to 37,000 in 2008 and has been downlisted to “threatened” status.
Aplomado falcons, once completely extirpated from the United States, now have populations in New Mexico and Texas.
And Mexican gray wolves, once completely eliminated from the Southwest, now total 75 in New Mexico and Arizona.
To date, the Act has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the more than 1,400 species placed under its care.
Many of those species are now meeting or exceeding goals for recovery — a record all Americans should be proud of.
When you look back across the many successes of the Act’s first four decades — from bald eagles and grizzlies to California condors and gray wolves — it’s easy to forget that recovering plants and animals from the brink of extinction has never been easy — but it’s always been worth the effort.
That conviction continues to be at the heart of my current work as a board member for the National Council for Science and the Environment, a prestigious group of scientists and environmental leaders working to more closely align the decisions of top policymakers with the conclusions of science.
And nowhere are the impacts of that bond more important than in how we administer the Endangered Species Act.
Here in the 21st century, if we’re going to embrace the challenge of slowing extinctions and habitat destruction, we have no choice but to let science inform our most critical political decisions regarding the protection of our wildlife.
If we do that, the Endangered Species Act can be even more successful over the next 40 years in helping us to save our most imperiled plants and animals and the planet we all share with them.
This op-ed was published in the Albuquerque Journal.
The letters to the editor page is one of the most widely read, influential parts of the newspaper. One letter from you can reach thousands of people and will also likely be read by decision-makers. Tips and talking points for writing your letter are below, but please write in your own words, from your own experience.
Letter Writing Tips & Talking Points
Start by thanking the Albuquerque Journal for publishing this op-ed supporting the Endangered Species Act. The Endangered Species Act is landmark legislation with strong bipartisan support.
Mexican gray wolves are an important example of why a strong Endangered Species Act is so essential. Without it, these native, keystone animals would not exist in the wild today and there would be no potential for them to restore the balance to our wildlands in the Southwest.
The wild population of Mexican wolves is still at tremendous risk due to its small size and genetics. The last annual population count found only 75 Mexican gray wolves in the wild. Many more releases are needed to increase the wild population’s genetic health and ensure their ability to persist in the wild.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should manage Mexican gray wolves to ensure their recovery and not risk extinction again. Even though Mexican gray wolves were released to their native lands in Arizona and New Mexico 15 years ago, the wild population continues to struggle, not because of any lack on the part of the wolves, but because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuses to make the changes needed for these wolves to succeed. These changes include removing boundaries that limit the wolves’ movement and enabling new releases throughout the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area.
The Fish and Wildlife Service should increase protections for these wolves, and expedite the Mexican gray wolf recovery planning process. A draft recovery plan to replace the outdated 1982 plan has been developed but politics has stalled the recovery planning process. The draft recovery plan should be put out for public comment.
The majority of New Mexico and Arizona voters support the Mexican wolf reintroduction. Polling showed 69% support in New Mexico and 77% support in Arizona. Elected officials like Senator Tom Udall should use their influence to get the Fish and Wildlife Service to enact the changes needed to help these wolves.
Talk about your personal connection to wolves and why the issue is important to you.
Wildlife biologists believe that Mexican wolves will improve the overall health of the Southwest and its rivers and streams — just as the return of gray wolves to Yellowstone has helped restore balance to its lands and waters.
Mexican gray wolves are unique native animals. They are the rarest, most genetically distinct subspecies of gray wolf in North America and the most endangered wolf in the world.
Wolves are a benefit to the West and are essential to restoring the balance of nature.
Keep your letter brief, between 150-300 words.
Provide your name, address, occupation, and phone number; your full address, occupation, and phone number will not be published, but they are required in order to have your letter published.
Submit your letter to the Albuquerque Journal here.
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