Celebrating 50 years of the Endangered Species Act

The Endangered Species Act was signed into law on Dec. 28 in 1973. It’s appropriate that it happened in the midst of the winter holiday season because it’s one of the best gifts we’ve ever given ourselves. It’s our nation’s most effective law to protect at-risk animals and plants from extinction both nationally and abroad. Currently, under the Endangered Species Act, more than 1,670 species native to the United States and 698 species in other countries are safeguarded to increase their chances of survival. And it’s had a stellar success rate so far with 99% of species listed still with us—dodging extinction and many species making the slow march toward recovery. Scientists estimate that hundreds of species have been rescued from the brink of extinction in the United States since the Endangered Species Act went into effect. Fifty years later, we’re reflecting on the success of our bedrock conservation law—and continuing to work together to ensure that it protects the world's most vulnerable species for another 50 years (and more!).

Wildlife conservation helps combat the climate crisis and biodiversity loss

By protecting vulnerable wildlife with the Endangered Species Act, we also make progress in other areas of sustainability. Wildlife play an important role in the carbon cycle by capturing and storing carbon. But once we lose a species, we also lose its ability to contribute to the biodiversity of the area and keep heat-trapping carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. There is mounting attention and plenty of scientific evidence demonstrating that protecting and restoring wild animal populations by protecting their habitats and their functional roles within an ecosystem can enhance natural carbon capture and storage. Protecting wildlife is a natural solution that we cannot afford to overlook. The Endangered Species Act is key in addressing the challenges of the climate crisis and biodiversity loss because it provides comprehensive protection for species and their habitats, has a science-based approach, includes citizen engagement and interagency cooperation, and requires the development of recovery plans and programs.

Conservation is a long-term investment

The rebound of a species is a gradual process that requires a long-term commitment dependent on many factors such as habitat, food availability, reproduction rate, and climate, so it’s critical that support for the Endangered Species Act continues if we want to reap the benefits. The bald eagle is a prime example of the time and resources needed to bring a species back from the brink of extinction. This iconic bird—a national symbol given particular attention—spent 34 years under the protection of the Endangered Species Act, added in 1973 and delisted once fully recovered in 2007.

No one can do it alone

The Endangered Species Act is implemented by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the US National Marine Fisheries Service but relies on the collaborative actions of federal agencies; state, local, and Native Nation governments; conservation organizations; and private citizens. Every one of those groups can take credit for the successes thus far but are also responsible for ensuring continued success. Collaboration is absolutely necessary for the law to work.

This law serves as a guiding light for other conservation policies across the world and has only grown more relevant over the past 50 years. We must continue to protect it so it can protect many others.

Advocating for the Endangered Species Act

Alongside Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, American Bird Conservancy, and the Endangered Species Coalition, WWF invited activists to Washington, DC, to celebrate 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act and meet with members of Congress and their staff to highlight the importance of this law—and advocate for its endurance. About 70 people representing 17 states participated in the event.

Here’s what a couple of our activists said about why they’re speaking up for the Endangered Species Act:

“I think that access to nature and wild spaces is something that should be considered a fundamental human right, and the biodiversity crisis is one of many things that is threatening that ability to experience nature. My hope is that in the next 10 or 20 or 50 years, we’re able to create a world where future generations don’t have to worry about animals going extinct or the biodiversity crisis because our generation has taken control and done our part so that when we pass the torch, we’re passing it better than it was when we received it.”
- Haley Jordan, WWF Panda Ambassador, Delaware

“As I learn more and more about how ecosystems are connected, I’ve learned how the Endangered Species Act has been used to save a lot of species—even cornerstone species and non-charismatic species—that are important for ecosystems. And the biodiversity it creates is important for human health, the economy, and communities. There’s also a moral reason to pass down a healthy planet for future generations like my six-year-old son.

What I hope elected officials do is take action to create a biodiversity strategy, and that they’re able to keep out all of the attacks and fully fund the implementation mechanisms to get as many species on the list and on the road to recovery.”
- Ryan Hicks, WWF Panda Ambassador, Washington

Want to speak up for endangered species, too? Become a Panda Ambassador!

Learn more about WWF’s wildlife conservation work.


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