December 26, 2013 by National Wildlife Refuge Association
December 28 marks a major milestone in conservation history: the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, signed into law by Republican president Richard Nixon. Forty years later, we have this law to thank for preventing the extinction of 99% of the species listed since its inception.
The concept behind the Endangered Species Act is simple: to prevent the extinction of plant and animal species by lessening or eliminating threats to their survival. But in practice, the law has been at times controversial and its regulations complex to average Americans. And yet, this law has protected so many of our prized wildlife species from extinction.
In the early 1900s, unregulated hunting was extremely popular, expansion was booming and destroying habitats, and use of pesticides was becoming more and more popular with little to no regulation. Let’s just say conservation was not the highest priority. It was the disappearance of species such as the passenger pigeon and the near extinction of bison that drove a call for wildlife conservation. Once people realized their actions were eliminating these once abundant creatures, they realized it was time to act.
Congress spent almost six months negotiating a final bill. After blending a strong House version with the weaker Senate version, the House approved the measure on December 20, 1973. The law was written mainly by a team of lawyers and scientists, including the first head of the White House Office of Environmental Quality, Russell Train. The act is administered by both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The National Wildlife Refuge System plays a key role in the protection of a great deal of the species on this list. Refuges are home to more than 280 of the over 1,400 endangered or threatened species, and have shown to be successful in recovery! Almost 60 refuges have been created specifically to help imperiled species. Currently, there are 11 species that have been removed from the list due to recovery and 17 have improved from endangered to threatened. In addition, more than 500 are now stable or improving.