COMMENTARY: Saving Noah’s Ark – The Endangered Species Act

At a recent hearing on Capitol Hill on the Endangered Species Act, it was clear that some legislators in the room were either not familiar with the story of Noah’s Ark or didn’t see its wisdom.

The authors and signers of the Endangered Species Act created legislation that serves as a modern day ark to threatened and endangered plants and animals. This act was meant as a comprehensive national safety net — an ark of salvation for God’s creatures that are in peril.

God called Noah to save all the species. God instructed Noah to build a vessel large enough to hold all the creatures of the earth, two by two. We don’t hear anything in the Noah’s Ark story of others trying to take the ark apart board by board. Or keep particular species off the ark. And Noah himself did not determine which species should join him on the ark.

Yet, today, we have Members of Congress trying to take apart the Endangered Species Act — rider by rider and species by species. In the last two years, Congress tried almost 150 times to attack the Endangered Species Act with bills, amendments and riders that would have weakened or destroyed this critical piece of legislation.

Rev. Robert P. Hall

The Endangered Species Act protects all God’s creatures, ensuring that they will not become extinct. The Endangered Species Act has been successful in protecting species and has prevented the extinction of more than 99 percent of the plants and animals listed as threatened or endangered.

The act has also been successful at pulling species from the brink of extinction with 29 species making significant recoveries so that they could be delisted. Bald eagles, humpback whales and American alligators are but a few of the species saved and recovered under this act. The once-imperiled Delmarva fox squirrel has recovered because of the act’s support and no longer needs its protective provisions.

And yet, even in the face of this success, we hear rumblings of trying to “modernize” this important piece of legislation. Modernization that by one Congressman’s boastful account would repeal it altogether or weaken it by insisting that states, already cash-strapped and without a comprehensive species view, take the lead, or by taking away the authority of scientists to determine if a species should be protected by the act.

It’s clear that any new legislation enacted in the current political climate would inevitably do great damage to this effective law.

Some lawmakers in Washington say that allowing states more control would be beneficial. Yet, I ask, beneficial to whom? A comprehensive, national approach to fighting extinction is needed, not a state-by-state approach.

The Endangered Species Act was not intended to be a bunch of life rafts haphazardly tied together, which is what advocates for state-controlled efforts are urging. It was instead designed, similarly to the ark that Noah built, to address the comprehensive and dire challenge of preventing species extinction. States already have significant involvement in the process that determines which species are listed as threatened or endangered and how to recover them.

And there are numerous examples of states that have worked cooperatively with the federal government to ensure that species don’t need to be listed. But states do not necessarily have the legal basis, funding, or, in some cases, incentive to do what science says is needed to save a species.

God calls us as Christians to be stewards of creation and instructs us to be caretakers of God’s creatures — fish, winged creatures, plants, and those that walk the earth. Even as Noah cared for God’s creatures by building an ark, we too are required to preserve and protect God’s amazing creation.

The Endangered Species Act is an effective model of conserving endangered species in the United States. Passed in 1973 and signed into law by President Nixon, it recognizes that providing for living creatures requires the protection of their homes and habitats.

Instead of changing the Endangered Species Act, Congress should provide appropriate funding to preserve species. Noah was asked to build an ark, a seemingly impossible job. But, Noah had the resources and commitment to complete the task and deliver all of the creatures aboard the ark to safe passage. Congress should mirror this action and provide the federal agencies with the resources and commitment to successfully protect species.

In Delaware, we are fortunate to have the leader we do in Sen. Carper, who is the leading Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. As strong supporters of the Endangered Species Act, we are counting on him to not allow it to be “modernized” or changed. For when one of God’s creatures is lost, it is gone forever.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Rev. Robert P. Hall is the executive director of the Delaware Ecumenical Council on Children and Families.

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