Dearest fellow Montanans,

This is my first-ever submission to a news publication. I was prompted to write by a friend, who reminded me that the Endangered Species Act is coming up on 44 years on Dec. 28.

On that day in 1973, Republican President Nixon signed into effect a piece of legislation intended to prevent the extinction of plant and animal life. Simple and straightforward, the Endangered Species Act is a law that any man, woman and child can wrap their head around. Wildlife needs protection, not because humans are evil, not because of greedy millionaires, but because we are individuals and we live for ourselves. We were just making a living, hunting bison, until they were almost gone. We were just farmers, trying to find a way to prevent pests from running our crops, until we killed the condors. We lose sight of our ecosystem and fall out of touch with the natural world.

The Endangered Species Act is our old past self, reminding us of a decision we made decades ago that has brought our own national symbol back from the brink. The American bald eagle became one of the first species on the list, and by 2007 the eagle population had recovered enough to be removed from the list. This thing works. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, only 10 species of the nearly 2,000 species of plants, fish and wildlife protected under the act have gone extinct since the Endangered Species Act was signed into law. That’s a 99 percent success rate at stopping extinction. And many more protected species have recovery plans in place and their populations have stabilized.

Here in Montana, the act protects our iconic collection of wildlife like bull trout, grizzly bears, whooping cranes and black-footed ferrets, as well as the rivers, mountains and plains that these and other species call home.

But there are people in our government who don’t think like Richard Nixon did back in 1973. There are legislators who think the act needs an update and indeed maybe it does, I’m not the one reading the fine print. What I do know is that we live side by side with our wild neighbors and they can’t speak for themselves. Yet some members of Congress, under the guise of “updating” the act, are really seeking to eviscerate it. Congressman Rob Bishop of Utah (yes, the same one who is seeking to sell off our public lands) is calling to “repeal and replace” our safety net for wildlife on the brink of extinction.

Protecting imperiled species is the right thing to do. Our unique rare and imperiled species of fish and wildlife are part of what makes life interesting, here in Montana and everywhere on the planet. We owe it to future generations to be good stewards and to protect endangered species and the special places they call home. I urge U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines and U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte to oppose efforts to gut the Endangered Species Act and the species and habitat it protects.

My heart is with the whooping crane; is yours?

Jeri Rafter of Missoula is a producer for the International Wildlife Film Festival.

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