Conservation and Biodiversity

A History of the Endangered Species Act

March 3, 2022 marks the ninth World Wildlife Day after its proclamation by the UN in 2013. The third of March was chosen as it is the same day as the adoption of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international agreement regulating the trade of wildlife and wildlife products. 

This year, World Wildlife Day is focusing on conservation with the theme of “recovering key species for ecosystem restoration.” Over 8,400 species of flora and fauna are critically endangered, with tens of thousands more considered endangered or vulnerable. The extinction of even one of those species could have devastating consequences. Biodiversity, the variety of natural life in an area, is vital for the planet’s wellbeing, as well as humanity’s. As species go extinct, biodiversity declines, which leads to increasingly vulnerable ecosystems.

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 was established with the goal of protecting vulnerable species, and by extension, biodiversity. The bill followed the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966, and the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969, an expansion of the 1966 bill.

The Endangered Species Preservation act of 1966 established a federal list of endangered species in the U.S. and outlawed the harming of listed species. It also established the authority for the Secretary of the Interior to acquire land important to conservation. The Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969 expanded the list to include endangered species worldwide, and expanded the protections of these species.

In 1973, the Endangered Species Act was signed into law. This was the most comprehensive legislation protecting endangered species to be established in the United States. The Bill expanded the powers and responsibilities of creating the endangered species list, required the designation of habitats of endangered species as “critical habitats,” or areas vital to the conservation of a species, expanded the authority of agencies to protect endangered species, and bolstered legal protections for endangered animals.

The Endangered Species Act has come under repeated attacks from various industries and individuals, as well as Congress. Various bills have been introduced to the House of Representatives that seek to limit the scope of authority for those tasked with protecting endangered species, placing economic impact above the conservation of vulnerable species, and more.

While the Endangered Species Act has its own shortcomings, particularly the significant delays in listing species as endangered, the bill must still be protected. In 1963, it was estimated that there were less than 500 breeding pairs of Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states. The species was listed as endangered in 1976, and through decades of protection efforts, there are an estimated 316,700 Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states. 

Success stories similar to that of the Bald Eagles can only continue if we pressure our government to improve, not inhibit, the Endangered Species Act.

Sign Earthday’s petition to Congress to stop the weakening of the Endangered Species Act here!