From the Desk of Dan Ashe

Thoughts on the Endangered Species Act

Last Wednesday, I testified on the Endangered Species Act before the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. I wanted to share with you my remarks:

Thank you, Senator Inhofe. It’s a joy to be back here once again. From 2011 to January of 2017, I served as director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. My confirmation was considered in a hearing by this committee and today I sit here as President and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, or as we affectionately call it – “AZA.

AZA represents 232 accredited aquariums, nature centers, science centers and zoos that annually host more than 186 million visitors, generating more than $17 billion in economic activity, and employing over 175,000 Americans. 

I believe we bring a somewhat unique perspective to this important discussion. We are a partner with our governments in species conservation; but we are also a directly, and significantly regulated, party.

As a partner, AZA members contributed over $186,000,000 to conservation in 2015 alone. We support more than 1,000 field conservation and research projects, here in the U.S. and in more than 100 other countries. From this practitioner-perspective, the law is working to save species, and it is a catalyst for organizations like ours and our members to participate in conservation.

A good example is the partnerships between AZA-accredited zoos, the federal and state governments, and other organizations, to conserve the California condor, and without that effort the California condor would be extinct today. It began with a bold decision to remove all California condors from the wild back in the early 1980s, and like so many other efforts to recover endangered species, has required continuous effort and extraordinary dedication. The Los Angeles Zoo, the San Diego Zoo, the Oregon Zoo and many others have played integral roles in that effort.

AZA-accredited aquariums and zoos have supported recovery of Florida manatees, spending over $6 million in the last 5 years alone. Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, SeaWorld, the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, have long partnered to rescue, to rehabilitate, and to release injured and ill Florida manatees, and conduct crucial research, that are answering questions about manatee biology, health, and behavior, so that we can better understand the species, and inform management decisions, and the public.

Especially since Senator Barroso is the new chairman, I have to mention the effort to recover black-footed ferrets, which were once believed extinct and were rediscovered near Meeteetse, Wyoming, in 1981. Last July, I had the privilege to join Wyoming rancher Christine Hogg and her family and many others in reintroducing 35 ferrets to this incredible landscape. And Christine Hogg sent me this little card holder which I keep in my office today to remind me of the importance of partnerships with private landowners and what we can do when we work together with private land owners.

We are proud of our history as zoos and aquariums, but we are far from done. Building on the success of existing conservation and species preservation efforts, AZA and its members are launching a new effort we call SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction®.  Through SAFE, we are challenging ourselves to provide urgent leadership, and create a collective movement that’s strong enough to turn the tide against a massive wave of animal extinctions.

As regulated parties, our members, their 186 million visitors, and their communities depend upon an efficient and effective regulatory structure within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). And as any regulated party, from time to time, we have frustrations, but overall, the process is professional and predictable, as evidenced by the vibrant economies surrounding AZA aquariums and zoos. It works.

Mr. Chairman, as you and committee members consider the future of this great law, I would suggest careful consideration of context. Scientists estimate the total number of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish has declined by more than 50% since 1970, leading many to conclude that we are living amidst the planet's "Sixth Mass Extinction” event. It is driven by the ability of human beings to change the very physics underlying the earth’s ecology: the molecular composition of the atmosphere; the moisture of soil; the temperature and acidity of oceans.

Mr. Chairman, saving species from extinction is very challenging. It will become increasingly challenging in the future. The Endangered Species Act is the world's gold standard; and it has helped us to achieve miracles. It is not perfect, and we can make it better, but as this Congress considers its future, your goal should be to make it stronger, faster, and better for the 21st Century because life, literally, depends upon it!

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, as always for the opportunity to be here with you and I look forward to a dialog with you.

It was a distinct privilege to represent this profession during this U.S. Senate hearing. As AZA continues to work with its membership to design and brand our AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction conservation initiative, we will continually seek to represent and reflect your leadership and success. Nothing is more important, in today's world, than support for a strong Endangered Species Act!

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