Endangered Species Act: Wildlife We're Fighting For

Whether they're being decimated by global warming, caught in fishing nets or being overhunted, here are some animals we've dedicated our efforts to saving. The Endangered Species Act was the driving force behind the legal challenges for these animals. Passed in 1973, the ESA is arguably the strongest of our nation's environmental laws.    More on Earthjustice's work with the ESA »

ESA: 40th Anniversary.

Grizzly Bears

This species of bear can weigh up to 600 pounds and can outsprint a horse. Grizzlies eat plants and animals. Female grizzlies—often emerging in the spring with one to two cubs—are very protective over their offspring.

What's Happening Now On Sept. 21, 2009, a federal court action reversed a 2007 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove ESA protections for grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem. The decision was in response to Earthjustice litigation challenging the Bush-era delisting.

In November 2011, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower-court ruling that reinstated Endangered Species Act protections for Yellowstone’s iconic grizzly bear population.

Photo: © Florian Schulz / visionsofthewild.com

Marbled Murrelet

Marbled murrelets are shy, robin-sized sea birds that nest in old-growth forests along the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington. Indiscriminate logging has wiped out up to 90% of west coast old-growth forests, and murrelets have suffered steep population declines as a result.

What's Happening Now In the early 1990s, Earthjustice successfully fought to get federal protections for marbled murrelets and their habitat.

Since then, Earthjustice has litigated a long list of cases all designed to prevent further damage to this sea bird. Most of this litigation has been aimed at preventing the continued loss of the big, old trees murrelets need for nesting.

(Killer Whales)

Orcas, also known as killer whales, live in a close-knit matriarchal family unit for their entire lives. Since the last ice age, the Southern Resident orca community has made its home in Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands, Haro Strait, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the northwest coast, with the entire population reuniting there every summer. These whales are among the most intelligent animals in the world with their own language and greeting rituals.

What's Happening Now In the 1990's, the Southern Resident orca population declined by 20%, with fewer than 90 remaining.

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Photo: iStockphoto

American Pika

The American Pika is a small mountain-dwelling relative of the rabbit that's adapted to cold alpine conditions. When temperatures climb above 75°F, they can die in less than an hour. Due to climate change these animals are moving to higher elevation as a result of rising temperatures and may soon run out of habitat.

What's Happening Now On Feb. 4, 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied Endangered Species Act protections for the pika. This was in response to a challenge filed by Earthjustice, representing the Center for Biological Diversity, against the agency for failing to respond to a scientific petition submitted in 2007. Earthjustice may challenge the latest decision.

In October 2011, the California Fish and Game Commission designated the American Pika as a "candidate" for protection under the California Endangered Species Act, the first step towards full protection for the species in California.

Polar Bears

Alaska's Beaufort and Chukchi seas are home to one in five of the world's remaining polar bears. In 2008, polar bears were the first animal listed under the Endangered Species Act specifically due to the effects of global warming. Polar bears are threatened by a massive expansion of oil and gas drilling in their Arctic ocean habitat, threats of oil spills, and loss of habitat caused by climate change.

What's Happening Now On May 14, 2008, polar bears received Endangered Species Act Protection but the government failed to stop oil and gas activities in polar bear areas.

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Photo: © Florian Schulz / visionsofthewild.com

North Atlantic Right Whale

The critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale has calving grounds off the coast of Florida and Georgia—and only 300–400 whales remain in existence. The loss of one individual whale could contribute to the extinction of the species. The species has been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act since 1973.

What's Happening Now On Jan. 28, 2010, Earthjustice joined several conservation groups to challenge a military or naval training range 50 miles east of Jacksonville, Florida next to the only known calving ground for these whales.

The U.S. Navy's decision to build its $100 million Undersea Warfare Training Range would introduce multiple threats to these whales—ship strikes, entanglement, and noise disturbances—and to an area critical for whale calves and their mothers.


Many salmon populations are in severe decline up and down the west coast—in California, Oregon and Washington—because of human activities such as dam-building, water diversions, pollution and reckless logging in watersheds.

What's Happening Now Earthjustice has lodged suits to address the numerous salmon problems for years and there are several lawsuits pending in the courts now.

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Photo: Steve Mashuda

Sea Turtles

Sea turtles have existed for more than 150 million years—even before the time of many dinosaurs—and now all seven species are either threatened or endangered. Threats include the large-scale poaching of adult turtles, destruction of nesting beaches, and the hooking and drowning of turtles in fishing nets and longlines. Increasing ocean temperatures also present a serious challenge to survival.

What's Happening Now Earthjustice has two active challenges to protect sea turtles—one affecting sea turtles off the cost of Florida and another in Hawaii.

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Northern Spotted Owls

Due to logging of their old growth habitat, northern spotted owl populations have been declining for decades. Today, there are 2,000 or fewer spotted owl pairs scattered across western Washington, Oregon, and northern California. These owls are very territorial and sensitive to habitat disturbance. They prefer forests several hundred years old with high canopies such as the undisturbed, cathedral forests that once blanketed the Pacific Northwest. The greatest threat to these owls is the loss of this old-growth habitat from logging and forest fragmentation.

What's Happening Now Earthjustice filed a lawsuit in 1988 against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the northern spotted owl under the Endangered Species Act.

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Photo: © Galen Rowell / Mountain Light

Gray Wolves

Gray wolves have come close to extinction in the northern Rocky Mountains, with a population of less than 50 only two decades ago. There are more than 1,500 wolves in the northern Rockies today, but they still face dangers due to killing by humans.

What's Happening Now On Apr. 2, 2009 the Obama administration stripped ESA protections for the threatened species in the northern Rocky Mountain states of Idaho and Montana and parts of Washington, Oregon and Utah.

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Photo: © Galen Rowell / Mountain Light

More Photo Slideshows:

For more than 100 million years, sea turtles have charted the seven seas. But over just a few short decades, these ancient and resilient creatures' numbers are now plunging.
Not so long ago, the Anacostia River was the pride of the District of Columbia, flowing as a pristine ribbon from Maryland to where it empties into the Potomac. But now this once-vibrant recreational spot is better known for being one of the most polluted rivers in the nation.
The Crown of the Continent ecosystem serves as a critical refuge for grizzly bears, wolverines, and more. Conservationist Gene Sentz shares his photos of the ten-million acre expanse of land whose untouched wilderness harkens back to the days of Lewis & Clark.
Coal plant pollution has a serious impact on health: every year, it causes exacerbated asthma, heart problems, hospital visits, days when people miss work and school, and worst of all, premature death. See a photo slideshow of two Pennsylvanians who live next door to a coal-fired power plant.