February 7, 2013
Atmospheric River
February 7, 2013
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Endangered Species

Directions:  Read the following passage and answer the questions that follow.

Endangered Species Act

(1) One of our nation’s most significant, successful and popular conservation laws—the Endangered Species Act (ESA)—is under siege. (2) In the early 1970s, the bald eagle—the nation’s symbol—was on the verge of disappearing.(3) Despite nearly four decades of accomplishments under the ESA and overwhelming public support for it, some members of Congress are making an orchestrated and unprecedented attempt to undermine the foundations of the law. (4) As of the August 2011 congressional recess, 13 bills or legislative proposals are pending that would undercut or dramatically weaken the ESA.

(5) The gray wolf, which once roamed from Mexico to the Arctic, had been eliminated from more than 99 percent of its former habitat in the lower 48 states. (6) Only a few hundred grizzly bears could still be found in the contiguous states. (7) Several species of whales were perilously close to extinction. (8) Sea turtles, brown pelicans, manatees, California condors, black-footed ferrets and other creatures also seemed destined for eradication. (9) But a strong, bipartisan majority in both houses of Congress responded in that dark hour for our nation’s wild heritage by passing the ESA in 1973. (10) The act was signed into law by President Richard Nixon, who, although not considered an environmentalist, nonetheless recognized the importance of protecting our natural legacy and passing it on intact to future generations. (11) “Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed,” he noted in his signing statement on December 28, 1973. (12) “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.

(13) The Earth is suffering the worst period of species loss since the disappearance of dinosaurs 65 million years ago. (14) Scientists estimate we are currently losing species at as much as 10,000 times the natural rate of extinction. (15) More than one-third of the more than 6,000 known species of amphibians are at risk of disappearing. (16) The ocean temperatures have risen over the past century and are also endangering an additional 10% of amphibians. (17) Nearly 40 percent of North America’s fish species are imperiled. (18) Almost 50 percent of the world’s primate species are in danger. (19) Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson, one of the world’s pre-eminent scholars on biodiversity, has estimated that half of all species worldwide are likely to go extinct in the next century given current rates of habitat disruption by humans. (20) The extinction crisis is more than just of academic interest; our survival as a species depends on the health of the planet’s ecosystems. (21) Humans rely on plant and animal species not only to provide us food and sustenance directly, but for a variety of other services crucial to our survival: helping to clean our water, provide oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide, enrich our soil, prevent erosion, control floods, pollinate crops, and so on. (22) For nearly four decades, the ESA has been the cornerstone of imperiled wildlife and plant conservation in the United States. (23) It has proved instrumental in saving hundreds of species from extinction—not only the iconic bald eagle, which was removed from the endangered species list in 2007 after its numbers in the continental United States rebounded to 10,000 breeding pairs, but also the grizzly bear, the gray wolf, the black-footed ferret and many other species. (23) Only 10 out of nearly 2,000 imperiled plants and animals protected under the act have gone extinct during that time—a success rate of more than 99 percent. (24) In the next few months, politicians in Washington, D.C., will face some crucial tests. (25) They can vote to sacrifice species for political expediency or short-term economic gain, or they can vote for responsible stewardship and our children’s future. Our fate—and our planet’s fate—hangs in the balance.

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