Endangered Species Act celebrates 40 years

By Sally Zimmerman, MNA Intern

The gray wolf has been protected by ESA. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The gray wolf that has been protected by ESA. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

When Congress passed the Endangered Species Act in 1973, the act’s intention was to protect the nation’s plants and animals that were in danger of becoming extinct, and also to recover the ecosystems in which they live. Over the next 40 years, the act, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, helped preserve and protect countless species of plants and animals.

In 1972, President Nixon declared conservation efforts in the United States inadequate in preventing the extinction of species. Nixon called on the 93rd Congress to develop new endangered species legislation and on December 28th, 1973, the Endangered Species Act was signed into law.

Under the ESA, species can be “endangered” or “threatened.” “Endangered” means the species is in danger of extinction throughout a large portion of its range, if not the entire range. If a species is likely to become endangered in the future, the species is listed as “threatened.” As of January 2013, there were 2,054 species worldwide listed as endangered or threatened, of which 1,436 were in the United States.

The ESA is America’s most powerful environmental law, and has affected Michigan wildlife greatly throughout the years. The gray wolf was almost driven to extinction across the United States by the mid-20th century. There were virtually no gray wolves in Michigan. When the Endangered Species Act went into effect, the population of gray wolves in Michigan flourished to the point that they have been removed from the endangered species list. Their success is a result of the ESA’s efforts in public education about the species, habitat restoration, compensation of ranchers for livestock killed by wolves, and introduction of wolves into various areas.

This month, the Endangered Species Act celebrates its 40th anniversary of protecting the species of plants and animals that otherwise may no longer exist. To learn more about what the ESA has accomplished in the last 40 years, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.

Related: Timeline of Endangered Species Act History and Achievements


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