Forty years ago this month, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act; astute, visionary legislation that's served as our nation's lifeline for plants, fish, and wildlife on the brink of extinction. The act has since become one of the strongest and most important laws we have for protecting and restoring the native species of our continent. Thanks to Endangered Species Act, Americans can delight in the sight of bald eagle soaring over the rivers of the Chesapeake Bay, hear the howls of wolves in Yellowstone National Park and witness the magnificent breeching of a humpback whale off the coast of California.

Wisely, the drafters of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 recognized that halting the extinction of wildlife and plants meant taking measures to protect the ecosystems — the habitats — where imperiled species live. As a result, the act's habitat provisions have resulted in the preservation of millions of acres of forests, plains and waterways, providing a sanctuary for the listed species and an oasis of nature for the people and wildlife who share those habitats.

More than 1,300 imperiled species of plants, fish and wildlife in the United States are currently protected, and only 10 have gone extinct, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. And although the enormous task of recovering a species from near-extinction is a decades-long endeavor, studies have shown that the majority of protected species are recovering within the timeframes projected.

Several imperiled species call Maryland and Virginia home, including the Atlantic Coast piping plover, the bog turtle (North America's smallest turtle!), the Delmarva Fox Squirrel, found exclusively in the lowland pine forests of the Chesapeake Bay, and the Shenandoah salamander, which is endemic to Shenandoah National Park. As senior leaders serving on the authorizing and appropriating subcommittees of jurisdiction, we are committed to fighting off attempts by some in Congress to weaken the Endangered Species Act. We are committed to securing the future of wildlife found in the Chesapeake and the Shenandoah, and all of America's flora and fauna for generations of Virginians and Marylanders to come.

Perhaps President Richard Nixon said it best, when he signed the Endangered Species Act into law on December 28, 1973, stating that, "Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed. It is a many-faceted treasure, of value to scholars, scientists, and nature lovers alike, and it forms a vital part of the heritage we all share as Americans."

The 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act provides us with a great opportunity to reflect upon and strengthen our commitment as a nation to conserving and recovering wildlife on the brink of extinction. The previous generation of leaders gave us the tools. It is now up to us, particularly in a time of austerity, to secure its future and ensure that our children and grandchildren will inherit the special places we call home.

Sen. Ben Cardin and Rep. Jim Moran, Washington

The writers, both Democrats, are chairman of the Senate Environment & Public Works Water and Wildlife Subcommittee and ranking member of the House Appropriations Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee.

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