In Harm's Way

by Sophie McKibben
Kids' Fall 2005

One morning last summer, my parents and I got up early and drove to the side of a hill in Yellowstone National Park. It was misty and cold, but when we got halfway to the top there were hundreds of people already there. Most were looking through spotting scopes aimed at what seemed to be an empty field. Then someone let me look through her scope and I could see what everyone was watching: a mother wolf and three young pups. The wolves were rolling around and pawing at each other like a litter of puppies. The excitement of the crowd was high. Eleven years ago, anyone standing on this same hill would not have seen this sight. Eleven years ago there were no wolves in Yellowstone – or almost anywhere else in the country – because wolves, like many animal species that existed when the United States was settled, had been pretty well wiped out.

In 1973, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act to protect animals, plants and insects that, like the wolf, were in danger of extinction. The law keeps species that are listed as “endangered” from being hunted, protects the places they live and breed, and in some cases has been responsible for projects to bring back animals, like the wolves I saw, to the areas they used to inhabit. Thanks to the Endangered Species Act there are now more than 300 wolves roaming around Greater Yellowstone. That’s the good news. The bad news is that some people believe there are now enough wolves, so many wolves that they are no longer endangered. These people think the wolves should be “delisted” as an endangered species. This means that as soon as a wolf leaves Yellowstone, it would be fair game for hunters and the number of wolves would start to go down again.

This is just one way that, in the last few years, the Endangered Species Act – and endangered species themselves – have been put in harm’s way. The Bush administration has made it much simpler for toxic and otherwise dangerous chemicals, including pesticides, to be used in places where animals on the list reside. Many of those places have been opened to oil and gas development, with roads and buildings and fences being put in that get in the way of migration and breeding. And two bills were recently introduced in Congress that would specifically weaken the Endangered Species Act itself, even though 90 percent of Americans say they support it.

I am 11 years old, and the world I want to live in when I get older is one where there is clean air and water and a diversity of animals. It’s a world that has wolves playing in an open field – and an Endangered Species Act to protect them.

About the Author

Sophie McKibben lives in Ripton, Vermont, with her mom, dad and dog, Pransky. She enjoys reading, horseback riding and climbing mountains.