The Endangered Species Act

Recognizing that extinction is irreversible, the United States did in 1973 what no country had done before, establishing what amounts to a bill of rights for animals and plants: The Endangered Species Act.

The Act reflected the resolve of a society mature enough to guarantee a future not just for itself but for the rest of creation, even if difficult choices might be required.

Like all laws, however, the Endangered Species Act is
just lofty words on paper unless it is enforced.

Earthjustice has been at the forefront of efforts to make sure that this critical statute realizes its visionary promise.

By preserving endangered species,
we help to preserve ourselves.

Earthjustice & The Endangered Species Act
Explore just a few of our litigation efforts over the past 40 years:

Feature Stories: ESA at 40

Steller sea lions. (Vladimir Burkanov / NOAA)

Wildlife's Best Friend

Voyaging Back From An Age of Extinction Steller's sea cow was the first to disappear after a voyage of discovery accelerated a wave of extinction in North America. The tiny palila was the first to benefit from Earthjustice's use of a law passed to end the extinctions.
Attorney Mike Sherwood at the Bay Delta, an ecosystem he worked for decades to protect. (Chris Jordan-Bloch)

In The Beginning

Breaking Legal Ground with a Tiny Bird & King Salmon Earthjustice's work with the Endangered Species Act began in 1976, with attorney Mike Sherwood's efforts to protect the palila bird.
Bald eagle in Yellowstone. (Tom Murphy)

From the President

The Law That Protects Creation President Trip Van Noppen discusses Earthjustice's decades-long efforts to sustain endangered wildlife and preserve wild places.


Gray Wolves in the Yellowstone Ecosystem The extermination of Yellowstone's gray wolf in the 1920s triggered an ecosystem collapse. The impact of the reintroduction of wolves in 1995—through use of the Endangered Species Act—has been dramatic.

ESA Advocates

ESA Highlights

Dec. 28, 1973: The Endangered Species Act is signed into law by President Richard Nixon.
FWS & NOAA: The Fish & Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administer the ESA.
Approximately 2,100: Number of species listed under the ESA, as of the 40th anniversary.
More than 600: International species protected by banning or limiting their transport and trade. Includes rhinos, elephants and tigers.
25% of mammals: That science warns are at significant risk of extinction worldwide, in the face of climate change.
12% of birds: That science warns are at significant risk of extinction worldwide, in the face of climate change.
The risk is greater for species already on the endangered species list.
1976: Earthjustice files its first ESA lawsuit, on behalf of the palila bird in Hawaiʻi—and wins. The palila lives on.
2007: ESA rescues the bald eagle from extinction.
2013: The gray wolf faces removal from ESA protections across the lower 48 states.

How You Can Help

More Resources

From the 30th Anniversary

Citizen's Guide to the ESA

The Endangered Species Act

Full Text of the Act