The Case for Saving Endangered Species: 1964 and Today

Since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, more than 500 species and varieties of animals and plants on our continent have become extinct, including the California golden bear, the eastern cougar, and the Tacoma pocket gopher.

Conservationists have been working for generations to preserve species that are precariously close to joining those 500. They’ve been helped by the Endangered Species Preservation Acts of 1966, 1969, and 1973.

These laws, supported by conservationists, naturalists, and hunters, have saved several species of wildlife, including alligators, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, wolves, grizzly bears, and California condors.

The whooping crane, for example, came dangerously close to extinction. In his 1967 article, “A Close Look at Wildlife in America,” Bil Gilbert reported that only 43 whooping cranes remained. Today, with protective measures, the population has risen to 603. But with their wetlands disappearing beneath developments, the whooping cranes’ longevity still isn’t assured.

In 1967, Gilbert’s ideas about ecological damage would have been unfamiliar to many. In his article, he tried to make a solid case for the importance, and the complexity, of conserving wildlife and preserving an ecological balance.

Then, as now, some Americans wonder why saving species is important apart from keeping bird watchers, wildlife lovers, and hunters happy. Here are four:

We can’t count on the natural world to adjust itself to the vagaries of human progress, or on human ingenuity to develop a miraculous, last-minute solution when extinction starts hitting home. Ultimately, the species we’re trying to save is our own.

Click here to read “A Look at Wildlife in America,” by Bil Gilbert, from the September 9, 1967, issue of the Post.

Featured image: American Elk (John James Audubon, Brooklyn Museum)