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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:

American Pika

Bowhead Whale

Delta Smelt

Gray Wolf

Grizzly Bear

Huachuca Water Umbel

Laysan Albatross

Loggerhead Sea Turtle


Marbled Murrelet


Staghorn Coral

West Coast Salmon


Feature Stories: ESA at 40

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.

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.

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

Tim Preso  Managing Attorney
A Wild Life

All the success was made possible by the Endangered Species Act …"

Kristen Boyles  Staff Attorney
Forests of Feathers

It's a fascinating bird that connects forests and oceans, fins and feathers …"

Marjorie Mulhall  Legislative Counsel
Defending the ESA

Decisions about which species ought to get federal protections are to be based purely on science—not at all on politics …"

Trent Orr  Staff Attorney
The Bay-Delta & More

The ongoing litigation over the delta smelt is a classic example of the way in which protecting a species can protect an entire ecosystem …"

Kari Birdseye  National Press Secretary
On ESA Advocacy

Protecting wildlife is significant in the bigger picture because we don't want to be the keystone species that collapses our own ecosystem with arrogance …"

Patti Goldman  VP of Litigation
Keeping Our Promise to Future Generations

By enforcing the Endangered Species Act, Earthjustice is making sure this country is fulfilling its trust to future generations …"

David Henkin  Staff Attorney
Defending a Species Paradise

Particularly important was Congress’ realization that, for the new law to work, citizens needed to be able to go to court to enforce its provisions …"

ESA Highlights

Dec. 28, 1973:
The Endangered Species Act is signed into law by President Richard Nixon.

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.

Earthjustice files its first ESA lawsuit, on behalf of the palila bird in Hawaiʻi—and wins. The palila lives on.

ESA rescues the bald eagle from extinction.

The gray wolf faces removal from ESA protections across the lower 48 states.

How You Can Help

Protect the ESA from Congressional Attacks!
A bill (H.R. 3533 / S. 1731) that could rightly be called the "Extinction Act" has been introduced by anti-environment lawmakers. It would gut the ESA and put imperiled species at greater risk.
Tell your senators to oppose this harmful bill and any other legislation that hurts imperiled wildlife!
Take Action Today

More Resources

From the 30th Anniversary
Citizen's Guide to the ESA

The Endangered Species Act
Full Text of the Act

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