By Dr. Mark Rockwell
At the discovery of our nation it was important to immigrants and
native people to have an abundant fish and wildlife population upon
which everyone depended for survival. Wild turkey, fish and many other
types of wildlife allowed immigrants to get a foothold on the new
continent. Lewis and Clark were dispatched by President Thomas Jefferson
to explore the new Louisiana Territory and reported back the great
diversity and abundance of wildlife in America's heartland and West. Our
history rests on the great diversity of fish, wildlife and birds this
great land provided, and it continues to be a point of pride for most
As America became a more industrialized nation, our
dependence on wildlife diminished, and we moved to farm and domesticated
animals. As we grew in population and industry, our impact on wildlife
became one of encroachment rather than dependence. Our actions began to
drive many of America's beloved and iconic wildlife toward extinction.
Examples are the passenger pigeon, the American buffalo and bald eagle.
1973 two congressmen, Pete McCloskey, R-Calif., and John Dingell,
D-Mich., introduced legislation that for the first time said we would do
all we must to keep American wildlife from going extinct. Additionally,
we must act to restore endangered animals to self-sustaining levels. A
part of the law designates land needed for survival or critical habitat –
a place such animals can call home. This was the first time that a
conscious decision to protect wildlife would be backed by a federal law.
After near-unanimous support in Congress, President Richard Nixon
signed the Endangered Species Act into law.
2013 is the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. Here in
California we have the second-longest list of threatened and endangered
species in the United States. Our state has many success stories since
1973 – the California gray whale, southern sea otter, bald eagle,
California condor, least tern, peninsula desert bighorn sheep and many
others. At times protecting our wildlife heritage can be costly and
inconvenient, but the Endangered Species Act makes us think before we
act. Will the impacts of our actions result in extinction? If the answer
is yes, we have to find other ways of acting.
It is an American
value to respect and protect our outdoor heritage and its inhabitants.
Most citizens are willing to go the extra mile to make sure all of God's
creatures have a place to live. Beautiful art, lifesaving medicines,
vibrant color schemes, new visions in architecture and hundreds of new
creations are traceable to nature and its creatures. The vibrant color
in the hummingbird, the colorful spots in the California tiger
salamander, the majestic flight of the bald eagle: all are part of
California and America.
As Nixon acknowledged when signing the
Endangered Species Act into law, "Nothing is more priceless and more
worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our
country has been blessed. It is a many-faceted treasure, of value to
scholars, scientists and nature lovers alike, and it forms a vital part
of the heritage we all share as Americans. I congratulate the 93rd
Congress for taking this important step toward protecting a heritage
which we hold in trust to countless future generations of our fellow
citizens. Their lives will be richer, and America will be more beautiful
in the years ahead, thanks to the measure that I have the pleasure of
signing into law today."
It is time to reflect on how we all love
our state with its vibrant and diverse wildlife and open spaces. We
should be proud of the Endangered Species Act and the protections it
provides so we can pass this wildlife heritage on to our children and
grandchildren. Let's celebrate our collective wisdom for having a law
that protects all God's creatures, and helps to preserve a living
environment that sustains us all.
Dr. Mark Rockwell is a retired chiropractor, former California
fly-fishing guide and outdoor enthusiast. He has worked for the
Endangered Species Coalition since 2005 as the California organizer and
This piece was originally published in the Sacramento Bee.