Letter to Utah Congressional Delegation in support of maintaining and strengthening the Endangered Species Act

April 2017

My name is Paul Parker and I am the Executive Director of HawkWatch International. I am writing to you today to share my thoughts about the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and to urge you to ensure its continued viability and utilization as one of our country’s most important conservation tools. I understand that you have concerns about the law and how it operates to protect habitat and various species at risk. I hope you will consider our viewpoint as citizens and bird enthusiasts. The 1,500 members of HawkWatch International, 70,000 social media followers, and wildlife supporters across the country urge you to resist the knee jerk reaction of some to weaken the ESA as an enemy of development.

HawkWatch International is a nonprofit organization that works to raise awareness and improve decision making to mitigate threats and ensure sustainable populations of eagles, hawks, falcons, and other raptors. We have worked for over 30 years as an education and science organization dedicated to understanding and conserving raptors as indicators of ecosystem health. Raptors are apex predators at the top of many food chains that inhabit all types of environments and travel across large regions in search of food and nesting sites. Because of these characteristics, they serve as effective indicators of overall ecosystem health. When populations of raptors are in decline it often points to changes elsewhere in the landscape that are affecting insects, rabbits, rodents, or other prey species and environmental conditions.

In addition to research on raptor migration, habitat, and survival, we have 7 ambassador birds that we take into high schools to teach students about science, math, ecology, and stewardship. This education program (one of many) is funded by the Utah State Office of Education and reaches over 10,000 students a year. I have included a copy of our annual report that describes our work.

The ESA is an incredibly important law for the conservation of birds. The Bald Eagle and the Peregrine Falcon are two raptors that have been listed in the ESA, protected and aided in their recovery by the efforts undertaken through this law. Bald Eagles, our national symbol, saw their population fall to only 416 breeding pairs in the lower 48 states in 1963 and were then listed as an endangered species in 1967. It was de-listed in 2007 when breeding pairs had grown to over 11,000. When the Peregrine Falcon was listed in 1975, only 324 breeding pairs were left in the United States. This Falcon was delisted in 1999 by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and there are currently an estimated 2000 to 3000 breeding pairs in the US, Mexico, and Canada. These are just two of the amazing success stories of the effectiveness of the ESA.

HawkWatch International monitors populations of Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, and other raptors throughout the Western United States. We track raptor populations to be able to identify species in decline and then focus limited conservation resources on understanding the issue(s) behind the decline and identifying conservation measures that might preclude the species reaching the point of consideration for ESA listing. For example, HawkWatch International migration monitoring data over recent decades indicate that Golden Eagles may be in decline across the West. And we are working with wind energy developers to reduce threats from wind turbines and researching conservation methods to reduce eagle deaths from vehicle collisions.

Despite pro-active monitoring efforts by us and others, some species decline, due to a variety of different threats, to the point that they require enhanced protection and management to prevent eventual extinction. Some fairly question how successful the ESA has been in preventing species extinction and guiding those that are listed back to recovery and eventual delisting. The Center for Biological Diversity conducted an extensive study in 2016 that examined how successful bird recovery has been under the ESA. Here are some of their conclusions:

  • 85 percent of bird populations in the continental United States increased or stabilized while protected under the Act. Pacific Island birds recovered less robustly, with 61 percent increased or stabilized since listing.
  • The average population increase of all birds was 624 percent.
  • Few species were expected to have recovered by 2015 because birds have been protected under the Act for 36 years on average, while their federal recovery plans expect 63 years will be necessary to fully recover them.
  • Birds are recovering at the rate expected by their federal recovery plans.
  • “Threatened” and “endangered” birds fared much better than unprotected birds, which on average declined 24 percent since 1974, indicating that it was the Endangered Species Act that improved species, not general environmental patterns.

As scientists and bird enthusiasts we monitor raptors throughout the West and track the threats that they face throughout the year during migration, winter, and in the breeding season. Threats from energy development, climate change, contamination, vehicle collisions, and habitat loss will only increase as urban development expands and people increase the use of energy, and private and public lands for recreation, agriculture, mining, and other activities. There will always be a need to balance development with conservation and to work out collaborative solutions so that growth can happen in sustainable ways for the long term survival of natural environments and the wildlife that we share this planet with. The answer is not to repeal or weaken the ESA, but to work collaboratively with all stakeholders to resolve conflicts and find practical, creative, and proactive solutions. If the future environment is devoid of the rich diversity of birds and other wildlife, then the quality-of-life for our grandchildren and great grandchildren will suffer, and we will be accountable.

The ESA has been successful in protecting endangered and threatened species and facilitating their recovery under the law. While the costs and requirements at times are not popular, there is little question that Americans regularly encounter and enjoy the majesty of Bald Eagles and the power of Peregrine Falcons, the fastest animal on the planet, in large part due to this important law. At HawkWatch International, we work to conserve raptors and the environments they share with us and hope you will work to protect the ESA, a proven, important, and reasonable conservation tool for wildlife across the nation. As a science, education, and conservation organization that is recognized by the Utah Legislature and the Utah State Office of Education as an objective and effective nonprofit educator, we stand ready to assist you in your evaluation of the ESA and ways to improve this wildlife conservation law that has functioned effectively for nearly 50 years.

Thank you for your consideration and please let us know if we can be of further assistance.

Paul Parker Signature

Paul H. Parker

HawkWatch International, Executive Director