Endangered Species Act turns 40


The Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus), among the first species listed under a precursor of the current Endangered Species Act, in 1967, remains endangered. Credit, Tracy Colson, US Fish and Wildlife Service.

This past week, the Endangered Species Act celebrated its 40th birthday. Throughout 2013, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) commemorated the occasion with special news articles highlighting the major success stories for various plant and animal species protected by the Act.

President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law on Dec. 28, 1973. Since its enactment, FWS reports that 99 percent of species under its protection have been saved from extinction. The law currently provides protection for over 1,400 plant and animal species in the US, as well as 600 foreign species. The Act is administered primarily by FWS (terrestrial and freshwater species) as well as the US Department of Commerce’s National Marine Fisheries Service (marine life).

Over the years, the law has garnered its share of criticism from policymakers concerned with the constraints that complying with the law places on hunters and land developers. The US Congress (predominantly the House of Representatives) has held various hearings questioning the law’s effectiveness, including hearings on legislative proposals to modify the law. In recent years, there have also been increasing actions to legislatively delist species, circumventing scientific review processes.

In addition to informing the general populace, FWS activities commemorating the law’s anniversary seek to counter such criticism of the law’s success. Many species’ recovery plans span decades from the date on which they were first listed. FWS also created a “tool kit” of resources to help inform the general public about the many species protected under the law. The agency has also created a state map spotlighting wildlife species under protection in the United States and territories.

A special ignite session at the Ecological Society of America’s 2013 annual meeting in Minneapolis also commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. Panelists discussed existing fiscal and political factors that affect the law’s implementation and ideas to improve species protection. An August, 2013, EcoTone post outlines the arguments, and includes links to the participants’ slide presentations.

Photo Credit: FWS

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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