Something strange happened in 1973. Republican president Richard Nixon -- who the year before had stated, "this is not the land of quotas and restrictions" -- signed the Endangered Species Act into law.
A moment of cultural concern about ecological issues -- and the rapid decline of charismatic creatures like bald eagles and alligators -- led the Senate to pass the law 92-0. Sounding more Thoreauvian than Thatcherite, Nixon declared, "Nothing is more priceless and worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed."
His signature set into motion one of most powerfully restricting laws in U.S. history -- while providing what has proven to be a remarkably durable tool for the rescue and recovery of many plants and animals on the brink of going forever into the dark.
The Act was "visionary and comprehensive," says the University of Vermont's Joe Roman. It was staunchly prohibitive, and had "enormous reach," he notes, outlawing not only direct take of endangered species through hunting or removal, but also destruction of endangered species' habitat, a rule that gave regulators the power to stop private landowners and government agencies from cutting trees, diverting a river, or erecting a building.
The passage of the ESA is "a feat just about unimaginable forty years on, " says Roman, a conservation biologist in UVM's Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources.
Roman's new book, Listed: Dispatches from America's Endangered Species Act, traces this four-decade history -- while describing his cross-the-nation tour following the tales (and sometime tails) of the many creatures (and a few plants) that have been at the center of the ESA's contested place in American life: whooping cranes, right whales, grey wolves, Indiana bats, Florida panthers and others.
The book will be released by Harvard University Press on May 15.
Listed begins with an od
|Contact: Joshua Brown|
University of Vermont