Celebrating 40 Years of Endangered Species Act Success

Bald eagles, Fairfax, Virginia, Jan. 2013 (Photo by Larry Meade)


WASHINGTON, DC, December 31, 2013 (ENS) – Forty years ago this month, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act as a safety net for fish, plants and wildlife on the brink of extinction. Today, while 99 percent of listed species have been saved from extinction, the law is under repeated attack by anti-environmental politicians in Congress.

Marking the anniversary, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said, “The Endangered Species Act has played an integral role in wildlife conservation for four decades, giving us the ability to work with partners across the nation to prevent the extinction of hundreds of species, recover many others, and protect fragile habitat that supports both species and people.”

The El Segundo blue butterfly is found in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties and nowhere else on Earth. (Photo by by Stonebird courtesy Center for Biological Diversity)

“We face enormous challenges as we seek to sustain and build on this success, which is why we’re committed to improving our ability to work collaboratively with landowners and other key stakeholders at a landscape scale,” said Ashe.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said, “This landmark law has helped to stop the slide towards extinction of hundreds of species. Along the way, we have strengthened partnerships among states, tribes, local communities, private landowners and other stakeholders to find conservation solutions that work for both listed species and economic development.”

A study by the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity has found that 90 percent of protected species are recovering at the pace expected in their scientific recovery plans.

The Center says 99 percent of listed species have been saved from extinction. Of the more than 1,400 plants and animals placed under the care of the Act over the past four decades, 99 percent have been saved. To date only 10 species protected under the Act have been declared extinct, and of these eight were very likely already extinct when they were granted protection.

A 2006 study by the Center found that 90 percent of endangered species in the northeast U.S. were meeting or exceeding federal recovery goals and moving toward eventual removal of protected status.

More recently, the Center identified 110 species from across the country that have seen their numbers rise because of the Endangered Species Act protections.

The Endangered Species Act has strong public support. A national poll commissioned by the Center earlier this year found that two out of three Americans want the Endangered Species Act strengthened or left alone, but not weakened.

On its website, the Center for Biological Diversity features more than 100 Endangered Species Act success stories in all 50 states. A few highlights:

  • Nesting pairs of California least terns have increased 2,819 percent;
  • San Miguel island foxes have increased by 3,830 percent;
  • The number of nesting female Atlantic green sea turtles in Florida is up by 2,206 percent;
  • El Segundo blue butterflies have increased by 22,312 percent.

The Endangered Species Coalition marked the anniversary with a new annual report highlighting a few of the wildlife conservation accomplishments since 1973 when the measure was signed into law by President Richard Nixon.

Entitled, “Back from the Brink: Ten Success Stories Celebrating the Endangered Species Act at 40,” the report highlights 10 species that are either steadily improving or have been recovered and removed from the list.

Nene geese
Habitat protection and captive breeding have rebuilt Hawaii’s nene goose population from the brink of extinction in the mid-1990s to about 1,300 birds today. (Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

They include Hawaii’s nene goose, the American peregrine falcon, the El Segundo blue butterfly, the bald eagle, the southern sea otter, the humpback whale, the American alligator, the brown pelican, the green sea turtle, and the only plant on the top 10 list, the Robbins’ cinquefoil.

All of the species in the report were nominated by Endangered Species Coalition member groups from around the country. A panel of distinguished scientists reviewed the nominations and decided which species to include in the report.

“Conservation Council for Hawaii nominated the nene for the report because, although this Hawaiian bird is still imperiled, it recovery efforts, such as captive breeding and release into the wild, predator control, habitat protection, and aloha saved the nene from extinction,” said Marjorie Ziegler, executive director of the Council.

More than 1,300 imperiled species of plants, fish and wildlife in the United States have been protected by the Endangered Species Act, and only 10 have gone extinct, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

When President Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law on December 28, 1973, he announced, “Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed. 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.”

“Thanks to wisdom and the vision of Congress in 1973, our children will have the opportunity to witness the magnificent breaching of a humpback whale, or hear the call of the peregrine falcon,” said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition “We owe it to future generations to continue to protect our endangered species and the special habitats they call home.”

The Endangered Species Coalition’s Top 10 Success Stories Celebrating the Endangered Species Act at 40:

Nene Goose
Habitat protection and captive breeding programs have rebuilt the nene goose population from the brink of extinction in the mid-1900s to approximately 1,300 individuals in 2013. Still listed under the Endangered Species Act, the nene is also protected by collaborative programs with landowners designed to bring the goose to full recovery.

American Peregrine Falcon
The U.S. population of peregrine falcons dropped from an estimated 3,900 in the mid-1940s to just 324 individuals in 1975, and the falcon was considered locally extinct in the eastern United States. Their comeback has been truly remarkable. Today, there are approximately 3,500 nesting pairs.

El Segundo Blue Butterfly
By 1984, only about 500 of these butterflies remained. The butterfly has rebounded significantly, with an astonishing 20,000 percent comeback recorded in 2012. The resurgence of the El Segundo blue butterfly is an story of the Endangered Species Act’s ability to protect critical habitat.

Bald Eagle
By the early 1960s, the count of nesting bald eagles plummeted to about 480 in the lower 48 states. Today, with some 14,000 breeding pairs in the skies over North America, the bald eagle endures as a testament to the strength of the Endangered Species Act.

Southern Sea Otter
Sea otters once numbered in the thousands before the fur trade and other factors reduced their numbers to about 50 in 1914. Listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1977, this remarkable species rebounded to approximately 2,800 individuals between 2005 and 2010.

Humpback Whale
The whaling industry dramatically depleted humpback populations from a high of more than 125,000; by the mid-1960s, only 1,200 individuals swam in the North Pacific. That tiny population of humpbacks has swelled to more than 22,000 members today due to a strong recovery program implemented under the Endangered Species Act.

American Alligator
By the 1950s, the American alligator had been hunted and traded to near-extinction. Captive breeding and strong enforcement of habitat protections and hunting regulations have contributed to its resurgence. Alligators now number around 5 million from North Carolina through Texas, with the largest populations in Louisiana and Florida.

Brown Pelican
Brown pelicans were dramatically impacted by habitat destruction and DDT. Driven to extinction in Louisiana, pelicans have made a dramatic comeback under the Endangered Species Act; in 2004, the population in Louisiana numbered 16,500 nesting pairs. Thanks to ambitious reintroduction programs, the brown pelican was fully delisted in 2009.

Green Sea Turtle
In 1990, fewer than 50 green sea turtles were documented nesting at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge on Florida’s east coast. This 20-mile stretch of beach hosted more than 10,000 green sea turtle nests in 2013, making this one of the greatest conservation success stories of our time.

Robbins’ Cinquefoil
Although it was once close to extinction, today the original Robbins’ cinquefoil population on a small, rugged site in New Hampshire’s White Mountains numbers about 14,000 plants, with 1,500 to 2,000 flowering individuals. In a remarkable win for the Endangered Species Act, Robbins’ cinquefoil was officially delisted in 2002.

Bald eagles, Fairfax, Virginia, Jan. 2013 (Photo by Larry Meade)

In honor of the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums today announced that AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums support the field conservation of more than 650 species – about 200 of them currently listed under the ESA.

Each year, the 223 zoos and aquariums accredited by the AZA collectively contribute $160 million a year to field conservation, supporting more than 2,650 conservation projects in 115 countries.

“The implementation of Endangered Species Act in 1973 was an important step in unifying efforts to protect the world’s threatened and endangered animals and plants,” said AZA President and CEO Jim Maddy. “AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums are dedicated to the conservation of these species and collaborate not only with each other but also other like-minded organizations to help secure the future of all wildlife.”

Defenders of Wildlife President Jamie Rappaport Clark, a former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said, “Because of the Endangered Species Act, our lives are indeed richer. Recovering wildlife are restoring balance to damaged ecosystems across the country, and Americans are reaping $1.6 trillion dollars per year in benefits provided by wildlife and habitat conservation in the form of food, medicine, clean air and water, flood protection and wildlife recreation.”

“But most importantly,” said Clark, “when we created the ESA, our political leaders from both the Republican and Democratic parties enshrined our nation’s conservation values into law and affirmed for all Americans that this country’s national resources are too valuable to let perish.”

“Today, we find ourselves again at a conservation crossroads. Accelerating climate change, invasive species, habitat destruction and development, along with intense pressures to increase energy production are among the emerging threats to imperiled species. But none of these threats are as great as the opposition to the law from extreme anti-environmental politicians.”

“Legislation has been introduced repeatedly in Congress to wave ESA protections for short-term economic gain, cut off funding vital to the recovery of particular animals and to block and overturn listings of imperiled wildlife,” she said.

Clark calls on Americans and the legislators they elect to protect America’s natural heritage and wildlife for future generations.

“Forty years ago we believed that conserving America’s diverse wildlife and special habitats was essential to the nation’s way of life; the value of conservation united us across party lines. Today, once again, all of us have a choice: will we sit passively, and watch species vanish or will we work to conserve and recover them? The choice each of us makes will chart the course for this country for decades to come.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.


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