This year is the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973. On December 28th of that year, President Richard Nixon signed it into law.
The purpose of the ESA is to protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. The Interior Department’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has primary responsibility for terrestrial and freshwater plants and animals, and the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is responsible for marine wildlife.
Under the ESA, species are listed as endangered or threatened. “Endangered” means a species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. “Threatened” means a species is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future. All species of plants and animals, except pest insects, are eligible for listing as endangered or threatened.
Included under the ESA is any part, product, egg or offspring thereof, or the dead body or parts thereof for any plant or animal listed under the ESA, which includes both native U.S. and foreign species. Any use or exhibition, such as in zoos and aquariums, of species listed under the ESA requires a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Endangered Species Act enabled FWS, NMFS and a wealth of non-governmental organizations, including zoos and aquariums, to save several well known species from the brink of extinction during the past four decades. The most well known species that were protected under the ESA include the California condor, the Black-footed ferret, the Bald eagle, the American alligator, Red wolves, Peregrine falcons, Whooping cranes and Gray wolves. These are incredible success stories but the work does not end at merely saving a species from extinction. The protection often must continue in order to protect the species from the original threats. Fortunately, there are many wildlife champions who continue the work.