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October 25, 2015

Saving Wildlife from the Brink of Extinction

In May, Pope Francis released a highly anticipated encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si”—the first papal encyclical in history to focus exclusively on care for the planet. In it, Pope Francis repeatedly warned of the dangers that human activity has wrought for biodiversity and warned against further harm. “Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever,” he wrote. “The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.”

This week, the Center for American Progress issued a report that offers ways the government can help prevent further loss of biodiversity, which has accelerated in recent decades due to problems such as deforestation and climate change. While the Endangered Species Act, or ESA, a law passed in 1973, has been a success—fewer than 1 percent of species protected by the ESA have become extinct, including the American national emblem, the bald eagle—the government can protect more creatures that share the planet with us by adding an additional category. At risk would apply to animals and plants that are declining in number but do not yet qualify as threatened or endangered under the ESA. Taking proactive measures could help protect some of the 1,300 wildlife species that are currently at risk of extinction in the United States.

The success of the Endangered Species Act shows that policymakers can mitigate the harmful impact of human activity on plants and animals if they make a concerted effort.

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