- ES Home
- What We Do
- Candidate Conservation
- Listing and Critical Habitat
- For Landowners
- About Us
- FWS Regions
- Laws & Policies
- For Kids
- The Class of 1967
- Nearing the Finish Line: Delmarva Peninsula Fox Squirrel Recovery
- Big Bend's Namesake Fish Saved from Extinction
- Recovering the Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander: A Little Amphibian with a Large Fan-base
- Rivers of Shortnose Sturgeon in Winter
- The Yuma Clapper Rail: A Marsh Bird in the Desert
The Class of 1967
by David Klinger
Photo Credit: Elvis Santana
Like most inaugural classes from any great institution, its members turned out to be an eclectic but largely distinguished bunch, dominated by a few showy overachievers and brilliant minds, typified mostly by plodding middle-of-the-roaders and nerds, punctuated by the occasional rebel and colorful non-conformist.
A handful had been regarded as real losers, yet redeemed themselves much later in life, confounding their compatriots each time the alumni newsletter arrived. Several disappeared entirely, and haven't been heard from since the "Class of 1967's" spectacular coming-out prom.
They included a future Disney star, a millinery fashionista, a national symbol, a living fossil from the Pleistocene, a Western outlaw, a calypso siren blown in from the Islands, a sight-impaired cowboy, a swamp denizen from the bayou, a Mormon State survivalist, a solitary world traveler, a burned-out fire survivor, a diminutive whisper hailing from the Conch Republic, and an enigmatic cipher reportedly last spotted in Castro's Sierra Maestra.
In short, this groovy dean's list from the psychedelic Sixties included the dusky seaside sparrow, the whooping crane, the American bald eagle, the California condor, the gray wolf, the West Indian manatee, the Texas blind salamander, the American alligator, the Utah prairie dog, the loggerhead sea turtle, the Kirtland's warbler, the key deer, and the ivory-billed woodpecker.
Not a bad graduating class ... a few drop-outs, though a number have been held back for remedial education.
We forget that this "Class of 1967" was the product of a rigidly segregated system, separate and unequal. Only a decade later were the first plants admitted to this privileged academy. Until then, it was largely a select few mammals and birds on whom scientific attention and largesse were lavished. Today they're somewhat deridingly called "charismatic megafauna;" in the "Class of 1967," they were simply the "Big Men on Campus."
The Endangered Species Act of 1973 – the one we know today, laden with a laundry list of amendments, compromises, and the intentional flexibilities injected over the past 40 years – had two parents.
Photo Credit: USFWS
The first – the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966 – launched the listing program, spent a modest amount of money, encouraged federal agencies to protect species, and directed land managers to preserve habitat. In short, a tentative toe-dip into the new and unfamiliar world of meeting the needs of imperiled species in some systematic way. The following March, 14 mammals, 36 birds, six reptiles and amphibians, and 22 fish debuted as the "Class of 1967."
It was a start. It preceded Earth Day and President Richard Nixon's much-vaunted launch into the more comprehensive and highly regulatory approach to protecting endangered species that evolved with the growth of the environmental movement in the 1970s.
The second parent – the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969 – amended the 1966 law and addressed the international implications from trade in endangered species, setting the stage for creation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, what we now know today as CITES. Reptiles expanded their presence on the list, and invertebrates – those much-maligned poster children for the Endangered Species Act's detractors – joined the roster.
In reality, we mark not 40 years of endangered species protections in 2013, but 47. A case can be made that this environmental law had its genesis much farther back in time—a blend of 1960s restiveness, leavened with Great Society governmental activism.
How has the "Class of 1967" fared? For the most part, quite well, given the attention, protections, enforcement, and research that have been invested in these original Baby Boomers of the preservation profession.
Manatees now ply federal refuges and protective no-wake zones; they adorn the license plates of Florida, which has moved aggressively to adopt the lumbering sea cow as the Sunshine State's symbol.
Beer barons and Beltway politicians showcase their products and themselves against the backdrop of America's revered symbol, the bald eagle, whose condition progressively improved and whose regulatory status was periodically adjusted to reflect its improving fortunes. The species was considered fully recovered in 2007.
The alligator rebounded so quickly that a moribund tanning industry prospered alongside it, proving that a species can thrive and still support an extractive industry. Ease up on the poaching and let nature take its course, the alligator taught us.
Not so with the California condor, whose rapid decline in the wild prompted heavy-handed scientific intervention—alongside the dusky seaside sparrow, the two most prominent and controversial last-ditch efforts to pluck species from the wild and attempt to captive-breed their way back to health. In the condor's case, the removal triggered a backlash from the environmental community, whose most public outcry demanded "death with dignity" for the reptilian vulture. Twenty-twenty hindsight showed that the unprecedented step of taking an entire species from nature for zoological propagation was, indeed, the correct one.
Photo Credit: Joe N. Fries, USFWS
Other members of the "Class of 1967" haven't fared nearly as well. The Indiana bat is – as are most bats – still in real trouble; while we mostly understand the problems of the cave-dwelling mammals, precipitous declines continue unabated. There remains trouble in Eden, too, as the fate of Hawaiian honeycreepers and assorted other forest-dwelling birds of paradise attests. Chubs and daces and the assorted other desert f'shes of the Great Basin hang on in isolated pockets, threatened by development and grazing and the very tenuousness of the precarious biological niches they've evolved to occupy.
Yet today there is now a refuge for the Columbian white-tailed deer, and the key deer, and some for those Nevada fishes, too. Not complete recovery, but certainly positive steps in the right direction.
Had there been no flurry of endangered species protections and laws – those early Congressional parents and legislative progeny – how would the "Class of 1967" have fared? It's a question that tantalizes—part biological second-guessing, part bureaucratic self-justification.
Without a law that many Congresses ago passed overwhelmingly, a few, high-profile species undoubtedly would have been saved.
Others surely would have sunk, going extinct with little or no public notice or concern, especially a few of those pesky invertebrates, insects, and plants. In conservation, we've learned, it pays to be appealing, at least in the public eye. Chimps trump chubs ... and nobody, but nobody, loves the Delhi Sands flower-loving fly.
The majority would probably have continued as they do today, small advances here, occasional setbacks there, and surrounding them the gradual diminution of the habitat that spells the fate for so many members of the "Class of 1967." This large group in the middle signifies the utter impossibility of quantifying what so many legislative overseers rightly want to know: without this federal law how much worse could it have gotten? Is keeping species from going extinct an accomplishment? Indeed it is.
In the world of conservation, the 78 original members of the "Class of 1967," from lordly red-capped whooping crane to lowly Maryland darter, stand tall because of their very uniqueness.
These were the "first chosens" of our business.
We should all stand as tall as the Endangered Species Act's "Class of 1967." Sometimes life is just a matter of hanging on.
David Klinger is a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service writer and editor who lives in Boise, Idaho.
What We Do
- Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs)
- Safe Harbor Agreements
- Candidate Conservation Agreements
- Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances
- Recovery Credits and Tax Deductions
- Conservation Banking
- Conservation Plans Database
- Information, Planning and Conservation System (IPaC)
- Recovery Online Activity Reporting System (ROAR)
- News Stories
- Featured Species
- Recovery Success Stories
- Endangered Species Bulletin
- Partnership Stories