The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) is one of the most cherished and reviled laws ever passed. It mandates protection and preservation of all the nation’s species and biodiversity, whatever the cost. It has been a lightning rod for controversy and conflicts between industry/business and environmentalists.
The year 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of this law, and provides an opportunity for a measured and thorough evaluation thereof. We cannot know today’s challenges and opportunities without understanding their histories. This book is the most comprehensive history of the ESA ever published, and the first to consider the entire history of the law from all angles in a single volume.
The history of the ESA has been one of increasing impact, complexity, and controversy. In 1978, the Supreme Court declared that Congress intended for the U.S. government to save all species at any cost, and thereafter application of the ESA became steadily more controversial, as seen in the example of the northern spotted owl and the timber wars in the Pacific Northwest in the late 1980s and early 90s, and then everywhere as the ESA became a political football in the highly partisan environment of the late 1990s and amendments to the law ceased.
This book is not only a history, but a call to action. It will take more conservation, more funding, and more innovative solutions if we are to save our wildlife and biodiversity. It will take the engagement to every American to muster the collective will to meet this challenge. The hope of this book is that we will be able to look back and say that we accomplished more in the second 50 years of the ESA than we did in the first.
Lowell E. Baier is an attorney and a legal and environmental historian and author. He has worked in Washington, D.C. throughout his fifty-eight-year career as a tireless advocate for natural resources and wildlife conservation. Baier was recognized as the Conservationist of the Year by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in 2008, by Outdoor Life Magazine in 2010, and by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies in 2013. In 2016, the National Wildlife Federation awarded him their highest honor, the Jay N. “Ding” Darling Conservation Award for a lifetime of conservation service. He is the author of numerous books, including Inside the Equal Access to Justice Act: Environmental Litigation and the Crippling Battle over America’s Lands, Endangered Species, and Critical Habitats; Saving Species on Private Lands: Unlocking Incentives to Conserve Wildlife and Their Habitats; and Federalism, Preemption, and the Nationalization of American Wildlife Management: The Dynamic Balance Between State and Federal Authority. Baier lives in Bethesda, Maryland.
Baier offers thorough, richly illustrated accounts of crises of conservation throughout American history, from the bison to the bald eagle, and up-close surveys of what it took to get the law (and its less-sweeping predecessors) passed, implemented, and on-occasion amended. Original interviews supplement a wealth of sources as Baier pays welcome attention to the shifting cultural and political contexts of the last 50 years, from surprises like “Hardship Safaris” game hunters took to bag endangered game before the law went into effect, to the continuing conflicts between developers and endangered species that have fueled outrage and litigation ever since: the snail darter fish, the spotted owl, and wolves, among others. Baier’s history will appeal to readers of environmental and policy history, of course, but its sweep, depth, authority, clarity, and engaging prose mean it should likewise command the attention of anyone eager to understand contemporary America itself, especially the complex question of what the nation values. Case studies and a federalist “road map” for the future—"smaller stick, a larger carrot, and a more balanced endangered species program”—is as illuminating as the narrative history.