Endangered Species Day: A Celebration of Success

LET'S CELEBRATE
We can all be part of local Endangered Species Day events that will educate and motivate others, and we can all work to further the recovery of endangered, threatened and at-risk species.

Today, May 16, is Endangered Species Day, and it is a day to celebrate the amazing conservation successes of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), one of our most vital tools for protecting our nation’s endangered, threatened and at-risk species. 

Our nation’s rich diversity of fish, wildlife, and plant resources symbolizes America’s richness and promise. If we do great harm to the environment in pursuing our ambitions for wealth today, then we run the risk of impoverishing our children and grandchildren tomorrow – not to mention ourselves. 

The ESA represents a firm commitment to safeguard our natural resources not only for future generations but also for the many benefits we gain from healthy ecosystems. 

Fla panther

The Florida panther was federally listed as an endangered species in 1967 and ultimately under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Photo by Larry Richardson/USFWS

And guard our resources it has. The ESA is credited with saving 99 percent of those species listed from extinction. 

December 2013 marked the 40th anniversary of the ESA, and over the past year, we have highlighted the successes of the act.

The bald eagle and American alligator are rightly considered some of the ESA’s greatest successes, but there are many more, far beyond the 29 species that have fully recovered and no longer need ESA protection. 

Full recovery and removal from the list of species protected by ESA is, of course, the ultimate goal. But preventing extinctions, reversing species declines, establishing stable populations, and helping species gain a solid foothold on the path toward recovery are all valid ways to determine success.

By those measures, the ESA is a runaway success. Diverse species such as the grizzly bear and the Oskaloosa darter were on the brink of extinction before Service employees and valuable partners got to work and started them on the road to recovery.

Considering the long and difficult road that species need to travel increase their population, decrease their threats and adapt to additional factors such as invasive species and climate change, the fact that 29 species, including the island night lizard recently, have successfully recovered to the point that they no longer require federal protection after a mere four decades is remarkable progress. 

Cheat Mountain salamanderYou may know the Florida panther, but how about the Cheat Mountain salamander? Photo by USFWS

Today, the ESA protects 1,476 domestic species and 619 foreign species. Some are familiar species everyone knows – the African elephant, the whooping crane and the Florida panther. Others are less well-known – the Big Bend gambusia fish, the Cheat Mountain salamander and the eastern prairie fringed orchid. The ESA and those who use it are agile enough to meet the needs of this wide range of species – tailoring protection and recovery. 

In December 1973, Congress passed and the president signed the ESA, which asks us to consult, to contemplate consequences of actions and consider restraint. It asks us to make hard choices, but thanks to the ESA, restraint and efforts to lessen adverse effects on wildlife are in the playbook. 

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Last updated: August 31, 2011