The Sierra Club York River Group hosted a talk on the Endangered Species Act on October 16, 2019 at Sandy Bottom Nature Park. The speakers were Dr. Matthias Leu (Professor and Director of the Biology Graduate Program at William and Mary) and Delaney Costante (graduate student).
Dr. Leu is a Conservation Biologist. He and Ms. Costante are doing research on the Endangered Species Act (ESA), quantifying how threats facing species have been changing over time. The ESA was enacted in the U.S. in 1973, responding to fears that many species are facing extinction. Since that time, the ESA has been very successful helping to protect vulnerable species. Ninety-nine percent of species protected under the act have not perished, demonstrating its effectiveness.
All this comes at a time when the Earth is possibly facing its sixth major mass extinction event, this time caused by humans. In their research, Dr. Leu and Ms. Costante identified six major classes of threats: habitat modification, overutilization, pollution, species-species interaction, environmental factors (such as storms and floods), and demographic factors.
In their statistical analysis to date, they found that since the start of the ESA, the number of threats to species has increased over time. Habitat modification, the most prevalent threat, has been increasing. This particular threat is most typically caused by humans (moving into a habitat, cutting down or otherwise destroying a habitat, etc.). The ESA is helpful by drawing attention to species in trouble, so that humans can be aware and strive to help protect them.
But the ESA is under attack from many politicians and moneyed interest groups who want to weaken or even dismantle it. There are many hurdles to overcome to get a species listed as “endangered,” and politics, unfortunately, often plays a role. What can you do? Make your voice heard! Help protect the ESA (and other acts that protect the environment like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts). Vote for people who support environmental protection. Vote for people who do not accept donations from corporations that value money over environmental health.
Speaking of politics, at this meeting, Glen Besa (VA Sierra Club Political Chair) shared the names of those local candidates running for office in November endorsed by the Sierra Club. These endorsements are non-partisan. But the Sierra Club will only endorse those whose views on the environment reflect those of the Sierra Club. Be sure to ask if your candidate has been endorsed by the Sierra Club before you vote! This endorsement is a good way to tell if you are supporting someone who will be good for the environment and good for the planet.