All the creatures photographed in this post were nearly exterminated to extinction if it had not been for this law.
Today marks the 42nd anniversary of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the most important U.S. law for protecting wildlife and plants.
Enacted by the 93rd United States Congress and signed by President Nixon on December 28, 1973, the Act is administered by two federal agencies: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
ESA protects endangered vertebrates, invertebrates, non-flowering plants and flowering plants.
Originally developed to protect U.S. species, there are further worldwide extensions today. Read more here.
In the 1950s and 1960s the American alligator, victim of a highly profitable trade, was hunted nearly to extinction.
Then legislation was set into place, and today there are over a million alligators in the southern U.S.
Scientists and citizens first became alert to the possibility of animal extinction in the early 1900s. At that time the passenger pigeon, a bird species that graced North America in flocks of billions, was disappearing.
Early conservationists passed legislation in a few states, but it was disregarded; the efforts, futile. In the end, one man, Charles Whitman, had about a dozen passenger pigeons left, in captivity.
His many attempts to breed, even cross-breed with other doves, were unsuccessful because this highly gregarious bird only gathered and bred in large numbers. In 1903 they stopped breeding and gradually died. The sole surviving female was housed in the Cincinnati Zoo for 29 years, before she died on September 1, 1914.
The American bison is another example. It roamed the early American grasslands in massive herds. Before 1800, there were 60,000,000 bison; by 1900 there were 300.
Habitat loss was and still is a major threat. Other problems include pesticides, over-hunting, poaching, harvesting, and disease.
The Act is designed not only to protect species, but to recover species, by protecting and recovering habitat.
As the earth’s surface becomes more human populated (7.3 billion and growing), the crunch for space becomes more dramatic.
The importance of this law, therefore, continues to be paramount in protecting and maintaining species and their habitats.
A few notable recovered species include: bald eagle (417 in 1963 increased to 11,040 pairs in 2007); peregrine falcon, whooping crane, brown pelican, wolf, grizzly bear, gray whale, Hawaiian goose.
Click here for endangered or threatened list.
As a birder, it is shocking to witness beloved species and their decline. There are native bird species in Hawaii that I easily spotted 20 years ago that I will probably never see again.
Fortunately there are ornithologists, scientists, legislators, and citizens who are active and vigilant in protecting our earth and our species.
What you can do:
- support wildlife refuges and parks, wildlife-friendly organizations, even city bird cams. (Note: if you use a park or refuge, don’t park your car outside the bounds to skirt the fee. Pay the fee and help the beleaguered parks.)
- educate and engage our children
- respect pet leash laws
- vote for laws and congressional representatives that advocate species protection
- support bans on pesticides and lead ammunition
- while traveling, avoid souvenirs made from animal parts
- be aware of and report poaching and over-hunting
- support human population control
I had lunch with elderly friends last week who were enthralled with the brown pelicans feeding outside the restaurant window. They were unaware that these robust birds, in huge flocks that day, narrowly escaped extinction in our lifetime. Tell everyone you know.
With the extensive dedication of scientists and citizens, in a variety of capacities, we can all pat ourselves on the back today, for continuing the efforts of our predecessor pioneers who started this effort over a century ago. Let’s keep it going for future generations….
Photo credit: Athena Alexander