Maine Audubon goes to Washington!

Staff Naturalist Doug Hitchcox and I had the opportunity to take part in a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act with our partners in wildlife conservation across the country, who gathered in Washington, D.C., in September.

This gathering brought much-needed attention to both the undeniable success of this landmark conservation law’s directive and our shared concern for its future. Enacted in the early 1970s, the vision of the Endangered Species Act still persists and is one that we embrace at Maine Audubon fully: in the wake of rapid loss of plant and animal life, we share a collective responsibility to prevent the extinction of at-risk species. I can confidently say that without the Endangered Species Act, our nation would be far worse off in tackling the biodiversity crisis.

Directors of both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service echoed these facts earnestly at an Endangered Species Act symposium we attended at the U.S. Capitol Building. In a call to keep the Act intact and strong, Martha Williams, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director, wholeheartedly proclaimed that “we have to give these species a chance.” She added that when she needs to reset and remind herself of the urgency of this work, she goes to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History to visit a taxidermy mount of what was believed to be the last living Passenger Pigeon—a once-abundant species we drove to extinction with over-exploitation and deforestation. The bird’s name is also Martha, which Director Williams says helps guide her responsibility to this urgent work. National Marine Fisheries Service Director Janet Coit reminded us that 40% of plant and animal species are threatened by extinction in the U.S. In a moving moment, Director Coit filled the room with a long, quiet pause before closing her speech to the crowd of conservationists, tribal leaders, Congresspeople, legislative aids, agency staff, and others with these words: “The stakes are high. Extinction is forever. Now is the time to double down on this work.”

While the work that we do to combat the climate and biodiversity crises can feel insurmountable at times, Doug and I both walked away from this event with renewed confidence in the human communities in D.C. who are responsible for protecting the nation’s imperiled wildlife communities. With leaders like Williams and Coit steering U.S. efforts to protect endangered and threatened species, the work we do at Maine Audubon to monitor and protect at-risk species, educate people about their conservation, and advocate for their futures felt far more grounded than it did throughout the Trump Administration. We took this energy into meetings with Maine’s federal delegation.

Meeting with Senator Angus King
Meeting with Senator Angus King

Alongside advocates from Sierra Club Maine, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Endangered Species Coalition we sat down with our Representatives and their staff with a few goals in mind:

1) Remind them how successful the Endangered Species Act has been at preventing the extinction of 99% of the species it protects over the last 50 years;
2) Mention the popularity of the law—four out of five Americans are in favor of the Endangered Species Act and its critical work;
3) Urge them to oppose all bills, riders, amendments, and any resolutions that seek to weaken the Act itself or limit its funding; and
4) Ask them to support initiatives that will help forward a National Biodiversity Strategy in order to create a comprehensive blueprint for policy action to stem the leading drivers of the biodiversity crisis and better coordinate efforts of departments and agencies across the federal government (Side note: 193 countries have a National Biodiversity Strategy in some form or another . . . the U.S. is clearly not one of them—and we must change that!).

Meeting with Senator Susan Collins
Meeting with Senator Susan Collins

With Rep. Jared Golden, we spoke about the Act’s status and efforts underway to establish this National Biodiversity Strategy. While sharing homemade blueberry bread with Senator Angus King, we discussed current threats to the Endangered Species Act’s funding and recent attempts to weaken the law. With Senator Susan Collins, we discussed those same funding hurdles and spoke about Endangered Species Act success stories—like the Bald Eagle—and Maine’s role in these conservation achievements. Our final meeting was with Rep. Chellie Pingree’s office where we chatted about how we can all work together to keep the Endangered Species Act intact, funded, and strong long into the future.

In a whirlwind four meetings in four hours, we hustled from one end of the U.S. Capitol building to the other where we balanced our celebratory pride for all the Act has done with our serious concerns for its future. We are grateful that all of our federal representatives offered us their time and attention for these meetings as many of our partners across the country who flew in to speak with their representatives could not say the same. They all asked good questions of us, and showed a genuine interest in tackling the biodiversity crisis, along with a willingness to continue these important dialogues.

In case you hadn’t heard, Maine added eight new species to the state’s Endangered Species List this year. We cannot be expected to do this work alone. We need to keep the federal ESA strong, intact, and funded in order to do our best work for the Pine Tree State and beyond. You can count on us to pay attention to how they use their voices and how they take their votes and more ahead.

Neither Doug nor I were around in the 1970s to witness this historic legislation getting signed into law, yet we see and live its legacy in our work each day. Whether it’s my work advocating for adding species like the Northern Long-Eared Bat to the Endangered Species Act list or Doug’s work educating people during birding trips about conservation efforts to save the federally-endangered Roseate Tern from extinction, we are committed to championing the Endangered Species Act’s mandate in our own ways—always with shared passion and purpose.

To stay engaged with our advocacy efforts on the Endangered Species Act and beyond, sign up for our Action Alerts at maineaudubon.org/act.

Maine Audubon in DC: Francesca Gundrum and Doug Hitchcox.
Maine Audubon in DC: Francesca Gundrum and Doug Hitchcox. Yes, Doug’s sporting a tie!