THE U.S. ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT

by Editor on January 2, 2012

The ESA Saved The Bald Eagle—And Many Other Species. Photo: USFWS

The Endangered Species Act Is Our Most Important Piece Of Wildlife Legislation

If we did not have the U.S. Endangered species Act (ESA), America would be a much poorer nation. Without it, our national symbol, the bald eagle, would already be extinct. Also gone forever would be the the American alligator, the grizzly bear in the Lower 48 states, and the whooping crane, among a long list of others.

Deep concern for for the future of America’s wildlife began at the end of the 1800’s, with the the near-extinction of the buffalo and the looming extinction of passenger pigeon. The first federal laws protecting wildlife, including the Lacey Act of 1900, were passed at the turn of 20th century—however, they were far from strong enough to prevent an array of native wildlife from sliding toward becoming extinct. For just one example, by the 1940’s, ewer than 20 whooping cranes remained in the wild.

The mid-1960’s saw the passage of the Endangered Species Preservation Act, a piece of legislation that allowed the government to spend money on critical habitat for Endangered Species. The first federal list of Endangered Species was issued in 1967, and it included 14 mammals, 36 birds, 22 fish, and 6 reptiles and amphibians.

In 1969, an important change was made to the Endangered Species Preservation Act, permitting non-native species of animals to be added to our Endangered Species list. This allowed the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to protect vanishing wildlife from other countries by preventing these animals and their meat, furs, feathers, and other parts from being imported into the U.S.

Finally, in 1973, President Richard Nixon signed into law the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The ESA is a strong, scientifically based set of regulations that not only protects individual species, but also “the ecosystems on which they depend.”

At the time it was passed, one obsserver called the ESA the “Magna Carta of the environmental movement”—probably not too exaggerated an assessment, given the fact that the Endangered Species Act has now served as the keystone to American habitat protection and specie conservation for nearly four decades.

Over the years, the ESA has been amended a number of times to render it even more effective. However, there is no guarantee that we will always have the U.S. Endangered Species Act to protect our wildlife and wild places. Many wealthy and politically powerful interest groups dislike the ESA because they believe that the conservation of wild animals and their habitat should not be allowed to interfere with any sort of economic activity—particularly land development and resource extraction. These groups are constantly working in Washing D.C. to weaken or even dismantle the ESA.

The most effective way for individual Americans to protect the Endangered Species Act is to keep reminding our representatives in Congress that we strongly support this important piece of legislation.

Would you like further information on the history of the U.S. Endangered Species Act?

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