A Personal Perspective of the Endangered Species Act for its 50th Anniversary, Introduction

By: Amos S. Eno
Posted on:02/17/2022 Updated:02/22/2022

What Worked, What Has Not Worked, and Where Do We Go from Here?

I interviewed with Nathaniel P. Reed, Assistant Secretary of Interior for Fish Wildlife and Parks (hereafter FWP) in early fall of 1973, some six months after the passage of the Endangered Species Act (hereafter ESA). A Princeton classmate and lacrosse buddy Pierce Dunn arranged the interview, and I replaced him when he left Nat’s staff for Georgetown Law School. By the first of January, I was sitting at a desk outside Nat’s office at the end of the FWP corridor. In those days the Assistant Secretary oversaw three separate federal agencies: The National Park Service (NPS), The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hereafter (FWS), and the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (BOR). FWS was the lead agency to oversee the endangered species program then in its infancy.

By today’s standards, Nat’s FWP staff was huge. He had two deputies: E.U. Curtis Bohlen, familiarly known as Buff, who was the lead author of the Endangered Species Act, and Doug Wheeler who served as office legal counsel and lead for NPS and BOR issues. Buff came to FWP from Russ Train’s Under Secretary office where he worked closely with Secretary Wally Hickel during the first years of the Nixon administration. Doug Wheeler came over from the Legislative Counsel’s office. Other staff included Cleo Layton, responsible for personnel and budget issues.

Cleo took me underwing and became a valued mentor for me on the inner workings of the Interior Department. Cleo had been hired by Secretary Ickes in 1933, and knew the inside of Interior and all the bureaucratic machinery like the back of his hand (he died at his desk in 1985). He trained me to focus on budgets and personnel. George Gardner, who came with Nat from the Governor’s office in Tallahassee handled Everglades NP and Florida issues from The Miami Jetport to Cross Florida Barge Canal and assorted park and wildlife issues. Dennis Drabelle, whose new book, THE POWER OF SCENERY (2021) on Frederick Law Olmsted, which I recommend highly to all, focused on NPS and BOR issues with Wheeler and shared speech writing duties with me.

First, Jim Ruch and later John Spinks oversaw 1080 pesticide issues and FWS policy with a focus on ESA implementation. Every office lining the corridor was filled with staff. My initial role was scheduling Nat’s appointments, agency meetings, travel, and sitting in on virtually every meeting to insure proper follow up and execution of decisions. Those days were very different from the machinations of the Interior executive offices for the last thirty years. If someone came to see the Assistant Secretary, for example Maurice Hornocker from Idaho’s Cooperative Unit to seek funding for a surrogate whooping crane population at Grays Lake, Idaho, or Bob Bryan and Larry Morris from Quebec Labrador Foundation to seek funding for Atlantic salmon education programs, a decision was made in the meetings and I was tasked with telling the agency, in this case FWS, to fund Rod Drewein the onsite biologist at Grays Lake, and to provide him with whooper eggs for his surrogate sandhills from both the wild birds at Wood Buffalo park and Patuxent Research Center captive breeding stock, or to fund QLF’s salmon work in New Brunswick, Can. We always had pertinent agency officials in attendance at meetings, such as in the case above, FWS Assistant Director for Research Charles Loveless.

As a result, I learned in my first year on the job the importance of coordinating personalities, agencies and effective follow through from decision meetings. I kept and still have diary notebooks recording all meetings I participated in, all important phone calls, and memos that date back to 1973. In preparation for writing this chapter, I reviewed three of my diaries covering 1979 to spring of 1981 during which time I worked for the Chief of Office of Endangered Species, FWS, aforementioned John Spinks. These notes document the progress and perils of Rod Drewein’s surrogate whooping crane project at Grays Lake, ID, and the three-year long battle to rebuild the California condor recovery program and put a research team in the field-this was a battle royal! Much of the articles and books on ESA focus on legal provisions, litigation and Congressional wranglings and administrative responsibilities such as drafting recovery plans, listing petitions that tend to be pretty dry, arcane fodder for a general audience, or even committed conservationists. I learned early in my days on the FWP corridor that affirmative action drives conservation success and that is more about the effective management of people than it is about applied science, research, and various broad environmental constructs. A microcosm of this is evident in the decline in leadership function at the Assistant Secretary FWP level over the succeeding four decades.

Leadership at A/S FWP, ESA first steps:

With the changing of the guard from Nixon/Ford administration to Carter administration and the departure of the leadership trio of Reed, Bohlen and Wheeler, the bottom dropped out of the A/S FWP corridor in terms of a progressive and guiding spirit for conservation implementation and aggressive agency oversight and direction. The level of leadership from Nixon/Ford administration has never been replicated. Reed’s replacement was Robert Herbst, a Mondale appointment from Minnesota who spent two years issuing press releases taking credit for the previous administrations’ initiatives. It took the Carter administration four years to pass the Alaska Lands Conservation package (ANILCA) that was bequeathed to them by the Ford administration in December, 1976.

During the Clinton administration an irrevocable set back occurred for endangered species recovery. Secretary Babbitt wrought the removal of FWS’ entire research division thereby severely undermining the agency’s capacity to link endangered species research to management priorities. During Babbitt’s last three years, the A/S FWP was Don Barry, a former wildlife attorney in the Solicitor’s office and later clerk of Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee which was responsible for oversight and authorization of ESA. Barry reached the apogee of his career at FWP and accomplished little. His signal accomplishment in those three years was the banning of snow mobiles from Yellowstone NP, a trifling decision, later reversed.

The parade of officials inhabiting the FWP corridor over the last four decades never equaled the skill sets of the inhabitants of 1970-76. The follow on reminds me of the caustic appraisal of Fred Mohrman, Clerk of House Interior Appropriations sub-Committee in the spring of 1987 when I put together a daylong hearing to challenge OMB Director David Stockman’s evisceration of natural resource budgets for NPS, FWS, FWS, BLM. The witness list included Nat Reed, Russ Train, Lorne Green (of Bonanza fame) and other notables. Mohrman sarcastically declared: “You brought me has beens, never weres and never will bes and a dog food peddler [Green]!” In fairness my hearing was scheduled the very day the Senate at the last minute held William Ruckelshaus’ confirmation for EPA to replace Ann Gorsuch Burford, which stole all our organized press coverage and erased four months of testimony writing in preparation for the hearing.

When Congress and an administration create an entire new agency program with a broad regulatory mandate, it is important to have quality leadership to oversee implementation. It was fortunate that from 1973 to December 1976, good quality, enlightened leadership was in place both on the FWP corridor and with FWS Director Lynn Greenwalt to oversee the initial steps for ESA implementation. Greenwalt appointed Keith Schreiner associate director to oversee the endangered species program. Schreiner was a gruff, grizzly bear of a man, who possessed both common sense and administrative capabilities. He was a good choice out of the box. John Spinks, formerly on Reed’s FWP staff, overseeing wildlife, pesticide and endangered species issues, a Texan, was appointed Chief of the Office of Endangered Species (OES). Effective leadership overseeing new program implementation works!

A few example of Reed’s leadership are exemplars for illustrating early implementation of ESA and related issues: deregulation of the widespread use of toxic pesticide 1080 used for predator control; sending whooping cranes from Patuxent Research Center to George Archibold’s International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, WI; likewise sending peregrine falcons from Patuxent and Tom Cade first at Cornell, later to his Peregrine Fund. Both actions expanded captive breeding success for later reintroductions. Reed approved funding for Tom Cade’s MS student Tina Milburn for her two year ground breaking study on successful hacking of bald eagles at Montezuma NWR on the north end of Lake Cuyahoga, NY. (Tina’s work is chronicled in Darryl McGrath’s book FLIGHT PATHS, Excelsior Editions p.77, 82-84,314, (2) Tina’s work spearheaded bald eagle recovery introductions across Midwest and northeastern states.) Reed also sent me to spend a weekend with Dr. Prescott Ward of Army Aberdeen Proving Ground, who was capturing and banding peregrines on the beaches of Assateague and Chincoteague, which led to my multi decade involvement with supporting DOD‘s leadership on endangered species recovery projects from Ft. Benning red cockaded woodpeckers, (RCWs) to Camp Pendleton, CA.

Lessons Learned:

Leadership at A/S FWP, Director FWS is critical for ESA.

FWS OES YEARS 1978-1981: Anticipating President Carter’s victory in November 1976, I enrolled in a master’s program at Cornell University combining natural resources and public policy and graduated in May, 1977. I immediately set forth on an around the world safari that included hitching from Nairobi to Cape Town, RSA. I revisited David Western, who had taught me invaluable lessons in 1973 on the importance of bringing local people (Maasai) into the operable conservation equation for both landscape and species conservation. His book IN THE DUST OF KILIMANJARO, 1997 is an invaluable read. He saw working with communities of people as the bullseye for conservation solutions and he promoted integrating them into the day to day aspects of wildlife management. Western wrote: “Pragmatism seems a better approach to saving the diversity and integrity of life than does a pursuit of a single universal ethic based on a sense of moral superiority or virtue. If we take the narrow- mostly western-view that nature is harmonious unless disturbed by humanity and that protected areas are necessary to ensure the survival of wildlife, there can be no hope for wildlife outside parks.” (3) I would add “or inside parks” as the poaching of rhinos and elephants in Africa from Amboseli in Kenya to Kruger NP in RSA has demonstrated repeatedly in the last 30 years. Western’s quote also accurately captures the spirit of the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth (FOE) opposition to the California condor recovery program, a description of which follows.

More to the point of current (21st century) species conservation concerns, especially the decline of grassland birds across Midwestern and plains states from Texas to North Dakota, Western states emphatically: “For wildlife to survive in independent Africa, it must become an asset to the African first and foremost…the challenge ultimately lay in addressing the root cause of the conflict, in solving the problems facing the African farmer as well as wildlife.” (4) The same perspective applies to our farmers in Iowa and North Dakota. This statement syncs perfectly with Aldo Leopold’s writing in the 1930s to be quoted later.

While in Kenya I accompanied Patrick Hamilton on the first capture and radio tagging of a leopard in Meru NP, and I flew in the back seat with Iain Douglas-Hamilton on his initial elephant surveys in Ruaha NP, Tanzania, and afterward spent more than a week at Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS formerly NYZS) Serengeti Research Center. In Republic of South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, I was exposed to the recovery of wildlife species on private ranch lands and community conservation areas.

Lessons from Africa:

One needs to work with local communities and people for species conservation, particularly in pastoral grassland areas. Private ranchers are in the forefront of bringing about species recovery in Republic of South Africa (RSA)

In Australia I spent several days with Graham Caughley, one of the foremost population dynamics scientists in the world. Later back at my desk in FWS’ OES office, my contacts with Patrick Hamilton and Graeme Caughley were of inestimable assistance in writing the memos debunking environmental listing petitions for the leopard and the red kangaroo; the latter’s population exceeded 6 million at the time.

During my years at OES, I worked directly under Chief John Spinks in his policy and budget division overseen by John Murphy. In those days the national office, OES, dispensed several millions of dollars annually to both regional offices and research division of FWS for both pre-listing projects and recovery projects. That was my job.  Reviewing and approving funding for plant and mussel surveys, Hawaiian forest bird surveys, peregrine reintroductions, manatee and crocodile and snail kite research in Florida, sea turtle protection on Mexican beaches overseen by Jack Woody (Albuquerque region) and Colorado River fishes, bald eagle hacking in Midwest, and in northeastern states Sunapee trout, and Atlantic salmon projects to name just a few. Each year I presented funding recommendations to the ARD for Endangered Species, Keith Schreiner, followed by Hal O’Connor and Ron Lambertson respectively. All my recommendations were approved over four years, a testament to close coordination with regional ES leads like Jack Woody in Albuquerque and Paul Nickerson in Boston, and research division’s Glenn Smart. However more than fifty percent of my time was spent on four principal and controversial issues.

Wrangling with the research division and Patuxent Research Center specifically to get their scientists and research assets to conform to our management priorities.
Whooping crane recovery and the surrogate population at Grays Lake, ID.
California Condor recovery and the creation of a new field research team.
Grizzly bear recovery and getting the states a role at the management table.

Aligning research and management priorities was difficult. A significant portion of FWS’ research funding came from the newly formed endangered species office (OES). Patuxent Research Center had captive breeding programs on site for whooping cranes, California condors, peregrine falcons and masked bobwhites, and of course they conducted significant research on toxic chemicals, pesticides like DDT. This is where Rachel Carson worked and wrote her way to environmental iconic status. Although the staff and director were extremely dedicated to their tasks, most of the captive breeding programs were less than a stellar success. During his tenure as A/S FWP, Nat Reed authorized sending a whooper to George Archibold’s International Crane Foundation, where George’s mimicking crane mating behavior yielded superior breeding results. Similarly, Reed authorized peregrines to Tom Cade‘s Peregrine Fund which also provided superior breeding results. Bottom line: entrepreneurial nonprofits out performed FWS research facilities. It worked!

In 1975 Nat Reed approved using whooping crane eggs from both Canada’s Wood Buffalo NP wild nesting population and from Patuxent to establish a surrogate population of whoopers with sandhill cranes nesting in the very isolated Grays Lake in southeastern Idaho. The project was supervised by Maurice Hornocker of the Idaho Coop Unit and his protégé, Rod Drewein was the onsite biologist. Whoopers lay two eggs with only one chick surviving in the wild (a phenomenon also common with large raptors) so removing an egg, transported from northern Alberta to Idaho and placing it under a foster sandhill parent nest worked from 1975-1983. Sub adult whoopers then migrated with their sandhill foster parents to the Rio Grande Valley centered on Bosque De la Apache NWR. The biggest problem Drewein faced in successfully establishing an alternative whooper population was coyote predation on cranes, especially during dry summers which reduced water levels on lakeside habitat. However, all the techniques for establishing new whooper populations with surrogate sandhills (later in Florida) were established. I made several trips to Grays Lake and during my Audubon years and flew with Gene Knoder tracking migrating cranes from Idaho south to N.M.

California condor: our nation’s largest wing spread bird and a holdover from the Pleistocene which used to feed on whales and mammals stuck in tar pits was down to less than 20 birds in the wild in the late 1970s. Nobody knew why! The leading condor biologist Karl Koford was an old time naturalist, sitting on ledges watching condors sail on thermals through his binoculars. National Audubon had a condor team, but they were naturalists and educators not field biologists, and the same can be said for assigned FWS personnel. In the spring of 1979 Audubon’s Gene Knoder (a former FWS Patuxent biologist who loathed bureaucracy) and Audubon’s head of Research, Sandy Sprunt, reached out to FWS, OES to plea for the establishment of a competent field research team to propel a strategy for condor recovery. We also initiated and supported field research overseen by Dr. Stan Temple (University of Wisconsin) and his student Mike Wallace to study surrogate Andean condors in Peru to develop capture, tagging, and radio telemetry techniques that could subsequently be applied to California condors. The Andean program, despite great distance away, headaches from Peruvian bureaucracy, and the remote field location on Sechura peninsula on Peru’s coastline, proved to be exemplary and was greatly facilitated for travel and equipment by Braniff Airlines. In June 1979 Audubon and OES staff began briefing A/D O’Connor in FWS leadership. In August decisions were made to reassign FWS condor biologist Sandy Wilbur, and Audubon’s John Borneman, the latter was directed to garner support from Audubon’s California chapters, several of whom were opposed to capture and handling of condors.

A sampling of notes from my diaries in 1979 follows:

  • June, Ann Gram, Audubon: call House Interior Appropriations Committee provides earmark of $500,000 for CA. condor recovery
  • 23 July, Ann Gram, Audubon lobbyist call: Dickey-Lincoln Dam in Maine de-authorized! Congress never de-authorizes a dam project! A win for furbish lousewort, an endangered plant.
  • August, ’79 Stan Temple call: tested tags on Andean condors work beautifully!
  • 2 Oct, ‘79 Rod Drewein call: radio tags prove coyote mortality with carcass retrieval.
  • 1-10 Oct, ‘79 (Grays Lake whoopers birds from both CAN, and Patuxent) fly south, four with radios. In Canada which had a dry summer, a wolf took a juvenile whooper in water like a Labrador retrieving a mallard according to CAN biologist E. Kuyt, field biologist at Wood Buffalo NP.
  • 18 Oct, ’79 call from Harvey Miller, a golden eagle killed one of the migratory whoopers over Colorado, reported by a female elk hunter who watched the eagle hit the whooper resting in a pond. (4)

The radios on Grays Lake whoopers en situ and migrating south definitively proved causes of mortality. These lessons were later applied to California condors where no one knew what their sources of mortality were.

In the late 1970s and particularly the years 1978-80, the two best and most effective environmental lobbyists were Ann Gram of National Audubon Society, and Martha Pope of National Wildlife Federation. They helped secure add-on appropriations through the Interior Appropriation Committees who they introduced me to and we succeeded in obtaining add-on funding for Ca. Condor recovery. They worked hard to defeat the proposed Dickey Lincoln Dam in Maine and preserve furbish lousewort habitat, and keep a great canoeing river free flowing. They were the front line in the fight over Tellico Dam in Tennessee, a quixotic battle to save the snail darter initiated by Zig Plater. These two women combined those rarest of ingredients for environmental lobbyists: acute political sense of Congressional pulse, and a coarse practicality dabbed with common sense. Both women departed their positions due to egotistical CEOs who exhibited daily messianic pretensions: Russ Peterson at National Audubon, and Jay Hair at NWF. Martha went on to become Chief of Staff to Majority leader George Mitchel (D-ME.) She transferred her superb skill sets for the entirety of Senator Mitchell’s leadership which proved life saving for ESA as Mitchell sat on Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. When Russ Peterson became President of NAS he re-oriented Audubon away from its historical focus on wildlife and natural resources to a focus on energy, toxic chemicals and population control.

  • 18 July 1980 Ann Gram call: “I will be leaving Audubon in December. I do not like the drift of Audubon away from wildlife issues…” (5)

The first problem we ran into for implementing a field research and recovery program for condors was fervent opposition from California environmental leaders-who as David Western’s forgoing quote alludes-subscribed to a broad hands off, pristine nature agenda promoted for condors by Karl Koford and acolytes, who had no sense of the on-the-ground factors effecting condor survival. Koford enlisted David Brower of Friends of the Earth (FOE) and Mike McCloskey, the President of Sierra Club as his heavy artillery to oppose capture, tagging and captive breeding. I have more than three diary notebooks documenting this three-year battle of environmental nihilism. Condor capture required CA state permits and approval for field work, and California environmental opponents marshaled all their opposition artillery at the California Fish and Game Commission (CAFG) chaired by Ray Dasman. On 10 Dec. David Brower testified in opposition on behalf of FOE. Both Sierra Club and FOE as well as FWS’ Lucille Strickel, Director of Patuxent were convinced that protecting habitat was the key to condor recovery (6). Habitat was not, never was, nor would be, as it turns out from our perspective four decades later with condors roaming the skies of four states today.

  • Snyder call and states: In April meetings with CAFG, Dave Philips FOE

“persists in the argument that habitat is key… they want to destroy the proposed research effort… concentrate on stopping shooting, poisoning, and save habitat” (7)

In July of 1980 David Brower flew to Peru to try to convince the Peruvians to cancel permits and shut down Stan Temple’s Andean condor research project.

  • 30 July Audubon’s John Borneman called to state:” Dave Brower is trying to save a mythical condor that does not actually exist and is leading people to mistrust science!” (8)

Jordan Peterson in his recent book BEYOND ORDER, 12 More Rules for Life, captures the psychology of Brower FOE staff and the Sierra Club leadership here: “Alongside the brilliance of creative endeavor (the Audubon/FWS condor recovery team) is the false heroism of the resentful ideologue, who wears the clothes of the original rebel while undeservedly claiming the upper moral hand and rejecting all genuine responsibility.” (9)

  • 12 May “In a NEWSWEEK interview, FOE spokesman states the only reason NAS/FWS want condor capture and captive breeding is they are afraid to stand up against oil companies. (10)

Ah, the oil bogey men appear thirty years before the same environmentalists peg them as evil in their global warming crusade.

After much wrangling between National Audubon (Knoder, Sprunt) and FWS Regional Offices (Portland, OR, Sacramento), and FWS Research (Patuxent), we finally got a joint field team assembled on site in California comprised of John Ogden (whose Audubon resume held years of research on wood storks, Everglade kites, wading birds) and Noel Snyder (FWS’ top Puerto Rican parrot biologist). In November, 1979 The CA FG Commission meeting which I attended, approved captive breeding, pending further proposals on tagging and capture. In January OMB approves a $500,000 increase for condor recovery. In June 1980 the field team (Janet Hamber) discovers a second condor nest in the wild 20 miles east of Santa Barbara, and later another nest was located in Sycamore Canyon, headwaters of the Sespe River.

On 21 July, 1980 disaster struck, as the field team visited the nest and handled the chick to tag and weigh it. The condor chick died in the arms of the handler. They collected feathers and egg shell fragments to test for pesticides. Environmental opponents (FOE, Sierra) came unglued and went ballistic publically. They pulled back the covers of the 30 May CAFG hearing wherein Director Fullerton had declared: “I do not want that chick handled!” The autopsy revealed the condor chick died of shock, “a death of hypoxia (oxygen deficiency), massive pulmonary edema, and secondary acute cardiac failure.” (11). In the wake of accusations and attempts to shut down the research program, The American Ornithologist Union (AOU) convened a panel of top ornithologists whose report on the incident opined:” the recent death, although tragic, does not alter the need for long term research.”(12) Stan Temple of University Wisconsin, and William Conway of NYZS/WCS were very helpful in convening the AOU panel and orchestrating the panel’s findings and declaration of support for condor research and captive breeding.

Throughout the three-year battle over field research there was another tug of war, also controversial, over siting facilities for condor captive propagation. The San Diego Zoo had the most modern and isolated facilities to host condors in southern California and management was world class. The Los Angeles Zoo was smaller, older, and poorly designed for an isolated condor facility, but they had a California condor, Topa Topa, in residence and assertively wanted more. After multiple site visits and back and forth, we decided to use both zoos so as not to put all our eggs in one basket. After the capture controversy died down following the AOU report, and condors were successfully captured from the wild, both zoos effectively implemented captive breeding and subsequently provided condor stock for successful reintroduction efforts back into the wild. From a nadir of 18 birds in the wild in the early 1980s, there are now over 600 condors in California and adjoining states of AZ, UT, OR. As mentioned before habitat, despite the insistence of FOE, Sierra and other opponents of field research, was never the problem. Well, what was the problem? DDT, shooting, habitat loss?

We learned during the late 1970s and early 1980s from tracking radio-tagged whooping cranes the principal sources of their mortality. Once the field team started capturing, tagging and radio tracking condors, we were able to pin point the problem; It was lead poisoning. California condors were dying after feeding on deer carcasses felled by hunters and condors ingested the bullets. Koford FOE and Sierra, despite years of watching condors, had no idea of their vulnerability. This mortality analysis led to an effort to capture all wild condors. This was successfully achieved and years of successful breeding by the two zoos was followed by release of condors back into the wild and strategic placement of feeding stations of lead free carcasses. Pinpointing the source of declining species mortality is the critical first step in designing the recovery of endangered species as following examples will substantiate. I will revisit this proposition with grizzly bears and Atlantic salmon further on. Applied field research works!  Advocacy of mindlessly, broad environmental agendas does not work to facilitate endangered species recovery.

In the spring of 1981, following the Reagan election, Jim Watt was appointed Secretary of Interior. During the Nixon/Ford administrations, Watt was Director of the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (BOR), one of the three agencies under Nat Reed’s purview, so I was quite familiar with the man, his philosophy and capability for determined action. One of his first actions as Secretary was to abolish the BOR, which provided much needed open space and both exercise and recreation facilities in our metropolitan areas. This action exacerbated our society’s growing multi decade health and welfare decline with growing obesity rates and heart diseases. * With Watt’s nomination, I resigned from FWS and went to work for The National Audubon Society as Director of Wildlife Programs in the Washington, DC office in collaboration with Gene Knoder and Sandy Sprunt, Audubon’s Research Director.