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Voyaging Back From An Age Of Extinction 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.

More than forty years later, America continues to stand behind that guarantee.

According to a new national poll conducted in June 2015, 90% of American voters support the Act—impressive results in an era of partisan strife when it’s hard to get Americans to agree on anything:

In Support of the Endangered Species Act:

Asked whether they support or oppose the Endangered Species Act based on a basic description of the law, 90 percent of voters surveyed indicate they support it, including a majority (53%) who strongly support it, to just seven percent who oppose it.

Support the Endangered Species Act.

Oppose: 7%
Undecided: 3%
This overwhelming support for the Endangered Species Act extends across the country and across gender, age, and ethnic lines.

Overwhelming support extends across the country and across gender, age, ethnic lines, and the political spectrum.

Decisions on Species Protections:

By a margin of nearly 4-to-1, voters choose a science-based approach (71%) over allowing Congress to decide which species should be protected.

Choose a science-based approach: Biologists, not Congress, should make decisions on which species should and should not be protected.

Congress: 18%
Undecided: 11%

Growing The Economy:

66% of voters agree with Endangered Species Act supporters who say 'it is necessary to prevent species from going extinct and that we can protect our natural heritage for future generations while growing our economy and creating jobs.'

Believe we can protect our natural heritage for future generations, while also growing our economy and creating jobs.

Hurts economy: 24%
Undecided: 10%

A 3 Question Quiz:
How Well Do You Know The Endangered Species Act?

Question One

An agency not involved in administering the Endangered Species Act is …
Fish & Wildlife Service
National Marine Fisheries Service
Council on Environmental Quality
The Endangered Species Act is administered by the Fish & Wildlife Service (part of the Interior Department) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (part of the Commerce Department).

The Fish & Wildlife Service has primary responsibility for terrestrial and freshwater organisms, while the responsibilities of the National Marine Fisheries Service are mainly marine wildlife such as whales and anadromous fish, such as salmon.

The Council on Environmental Quality is part of the Executive Office of the President and coordinates federal environmental efforts, working with agencies and other White House offices to develop environmental policies and initiatives.

Question Two

One of the more than 2,000 species the Endangered Species Act protects is …
American peregrine falcon
African elephant
Steller's sea cow
The African elephant was listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1978. The Act works to protect more than 600 international species by banning or limiting their transport and trade, including rhinos, elephants, and tigers.

The American peregrine falcon was one of the first species protected under the Act. By 1975, there were only 324 known nesting pairs. With the Act's protections, the peregrine falcon recovered enough to graduate off the list of endangered species in 1999. Today, there are around 2,000–3,000 breeding pairs in North America.

Steller's sea cow, formerly abundant throughout the North Pacific, was extinct by 1768—within three decades of its discovery by Europeans. Its closest living relatives, the manatee and dugong, are both listed as Endangered today.

Question Three

A key element of the Endangered Species Act is …
protecting habitats essential to listed species’ survival
creating plans to restore healthy populations within a set period of time
educating schoolchildren about biodiversity
Once a species goes extinct, it is gone from the world forever. The Endangered Species Act seeks to prevent extinctions by protecting imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend.

To quote the beginning of the Act: "The purposes of this Act are to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved [and] to provide a program for the conservation of such endangered species and threatened species …" (Read the full text.)

Since its creation, the Endangered Species Act has served as one of the world’s strongest, most effective wildlife protection laws.

Stemming the tide of extinctions is the most important indicator of the Endangered Species Act’s effectiveness. Four decades with the Act has demonstrated the importance of its legal safety net: The Endangered Species Act has been 99% effective.

Because of the Endangered Species Act, today’s children are able to experience not only bald eagles but also orcas, alligators, grizzly bears and myriad other creatures as living, breathing parts of our natural heritage—not as dusty museum specimens:

A disabled, rescued bald eagle reaches, talons outstretched, for a perch at the Yukla 27 Memorial Park on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
Justin Connaher / U.S. Air Force
The Bald Eagle: An Endangered Species Act success story, our national symbol today numbers around 10,000 pairs—recovered from a low of 417 known nesting pairs in 1963.

Did You Know?

Bald eagles are found in every state except …
Found only in North America, bald eagles thrive in Alaska. At around 30,000 eagles, the population is more abundant in the Last Frontier State than in any other. And tiny Washington, D.C., is no slouch in the bald-eagle-department. In 2015, the nation's capital was home to not one, not two, but three nesting pairs of bald eagles. (Meet them.) Hawai'i is the only state where bald eagles are not found—although its close relative, the white-tailed sea eagle (what does it look like?), has been spotted on Kauaʻi.
Gray whale sighted in Magdalena Bay, Baja California Sur. Photographer Charlie Stinchcomb notes that the whale was so close, it 'practically climbed into the boat.'
Courtesy of Charlie Stinchcomb
The Gray Whale: The North Atlantic population went extinct in the 1700s—but with Endangered Species Act protections, the Eastern North Pacific population recovered enough to graduate off the list of endangered species in 1994.

Did You Know?

Gray whales are thought to live up to …
10 years
50 years
80 years
Their typical lifespan is unknown, but these giants of the sea have been found to live into their eighth decade—a whale alive today could have been plying the oceans just as Pan Am's China Clipper was making the first trans-Pacific airmail delivery.
'Red' (yellow wing tag 42) flies high at Big Sur. 'Red' was hatched on April 20, 2001.
Courtesy of Froglet / Flickr
The California Condor: Endangered species protections are allowing this awe-inspiring, spectacular flier to mount an impressive recovery. Once numbering as few as 23 individuals, the condor population today is around 400—and growing.

Did You Know?

California condors are often mistaken for …
Canadian geese
The California condor is HUGE. With wingspans nearing 10 ft., the birds are so large they are said to be mistaken more often for a small, distant airplane than other types of birds. (See small child armspan vs. condor wingspan.)

Today, more than 2,000 species are protected under the Act.

However, like all laws, the Endangered Species Act is only words on paper—unless it is enforced.

In writing the law, the Congress of 1973 realized that, for this law to work, citizens needed to be able to go to court to uphold its provisions.

Earthjustice, born in the same era as the Endangered Species Act, has been at the forefront of efforts to ensure this critical statute is enforced and allowed to realize its visionary promise:

  • The Florida Manatee: An Endangered species at extinction's door, due in no small part to sewage, manure and fertilizer runoff choking local waterways with toxic algae. Earthjustice has worked for decades to curb such pollution. Record numbers of these gentle creatures died in 2013.
    Manatees in Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, FL.
    David Hinkel / U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
  • The Gray Wolf: A living symbol of wilderness, the wolf is one of North America's most iconic native predators. Their incredible comeback in the Northern Rockies is one of our country's greatest wildlife success stories. Yet the wolves' future is now under threat—by politicians. See (at least) five reasons why the U.S. should not abandon wolves.
    Wolf #10 of the Rose Creek pack in Rose Creek pen, Yellowstone, in 1995.
    Barry O'Neill / National Park Service
  • The Delta Smelt: The tiny Endangered fish has made big headlines in California's dusty, water-rights battleground. But making sure this species survives is actually very important to ensuring that California’s taps don’t run dry. Find out why.
    A Delta smelt.
    Dale Kolke / California Department of Water Resources
  • The Grizzly Bear: Despite their reputation as fearsome predators, Yellowstone's grizzlies get many of their nutrients from nuts, berries, and insects—and the nutritious seeds of the rapidly disappearing whitebark pine tree.
    Grizzly bear near Canyon,  Yellowstone National Park.
    Neal Herbert / National Park Service
  • The Graham's Beardtongue: The wildflower had been waiting for protections since the days of Betamax and VHS tapes: 1975. Found only on parts of Utah and Colorado, it is part of a complex ecosystem that includes mountain lions and black bears. Earthjustice filed a lawsuit in 2015 to fight for the species' existence.
    Graham’s beardtongue (Penstemon grahamii) is a perennial plant.
    Kevin Megown / U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
  • The Southern Resident Orca: Unique to Puget Sound, their existence is threatened by a decline in, and the toxic contamination of, their main food source: salmon. Earthjustice successfully argued that the orcas deserve protections in 2005. We work on behalf of their continued survival today.
    J16 making rainbows while surfacing, in Puget Sound.
    Courtesy of Miles Ritter
  • The Steller Sea Lion: Listed as Endangered in the 1990s, they require large quantities of fish to survive. Unfortunately, industrial fishing fleets harvest millions of tons of those same fish. Earthjustice is working for sustainable management of North Pacific fishing that supports both a healthy industry and a healthy ecosystem.
    A Steller sea lion poses.
    Crew & Officers of NOAA Ship FAIRWEATHER

With the Endangered Species Act, Earthjustice has acted in the interest of hundreds of plants and animals to ensure their survival. But that is not all.

Sustaining endangered wildlife has meant cleaning up waterways, improving pesticide protections, and preserving wild places that provide a long-term, low-cost source of clean air and water and offer a quiet refuge in our increasingly noisy, crowded world.

Wild creatures need these things. And we do, too.

By preserving endangered species, we help to preserve ourselves.

But today, some politicians in Congress are out of step with the American public.

Inside the walls of the Capitol, legislative proposals put specific imperiled wildlife species on the chopping block—while others attack core provisions of the Endangered Species Act itself.

The Endangered Species Act must be defended. Will you remind Congress of your support for this visionary law?

From June 25–29, 2015, Tulchin Research conducted a scientific survey online among a representative sample of 600 registered voters across the United States. The margin of error for this survey is +/- 4 percentage points. (Complete results.)