Resource guide: Endangered Species Day / 50th anniversary of Endangered Species Act

Media Contacts
Susan Holmes

Former Director, Save America’s Wildlife Campaign, Environment America Research & Policy Center

Data, resources and interview opportunities

DENVER — The annual Endangered Species Day (Friday, May 19) is extra special this year because 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Environment America and its state groups are honoring this important milestone by spotlighting both ESA success stories and endangered animals that need help as Congress debates wildlife conservation legislation, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, that could determine some species’ fate.

As you work on wildlife conservation stories this week and into the future, please take advantage of Environment America’s resources and experts listed below.

Information on wildlife conservation policies:

  • For 50 years the Endangered Species Act has been a safety net for native plant, insect and animal species helping to recover such iconic species as the bald eagle, gray wolf and humpback whale. More than 1,600 plant and animal species are listed as endangered or threatened in the United States. Eighty-four percent of surveyed Americans support a strong Endangered Species Act . More info here.
  • The bipartisan Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would send nearly $1.4 billion annually across the country to fund state-specific wildlife action plans aimed at protecting vulnerable species and their habitats.
  • Reconnecting nature: Wildlife corridors link fragmented habitats so animals, from mule deer to monarch butterflies, can move across the landscape to find mates, food and suitable habitats. Biologists agree that protecting wildlife corridors is one of our most effective strategies to stem the biodiversity crisis. Read more in our report.

Endangered species success stories:

Bald eagles are America’s national symbols but 40 years ago, the only eagle native to North America faced extinction across much of its range. Once numbering only 550 nesting pairs in the Lower 48, there are now more than 300,000 of these birds of prey. Now, the bald eagle is thriving because of reintroduction efforts, habitat protection and ESA enforcement.

The Florida panther population has rebounded from about 10 animals to more than 200 since it was first listed as an endangered species in 1967. These apex predators once roamed throughout the Southeast but hunting and habitat fragmentation devastated their numbers. Today, as they expand their range further north within Florida, vehicle collisions are the top cause of mortality. Recent commitment by Florida to build road crossings is helping the panthers.

Gray wolves have returned to the northern Rockies, Great Lakes region and Pacific Northwest, thanks to the ESA, but the species used to be much more widespread. Humans who hunt and trap them are the biggest threats to these wolves. As top predators that keep large herbivores such as deer and elk on the move, gray wolves play a key role in keeping ecosystems healthy.

diapicard |

Piping plovers, sparrow-sized, coastal-dwelling birds, are uniquely North American treasures. Named for their melodic whistles, they need safe, clean beaches to nest and feed. The U.S. population has nearly tripled since they were first protected under the Endangered Species Act. There are now more than 8,000 in North America.

Southern sea otters remain on the endangered species list, but their numbers have slowly recovered from approximately 50 to nearly 3,000. The next recovery step is to reintroduce otters in their previous habitats. This keystone species helps the near-shore ecosystem. Without sea otters to keep them in check, sea urchins can devour kelp forests that are important food and habitat for ocean wildlife.

Species in trouble:

Monarch butterflies are fast disappearing across the country. Famous for long-distance migration from the U.S. and Canada to Mexico, a monarch can fly up to 2,700 miles. We’re calling on FWS to list the butterfly as endangered and we’re doing our part to help by educating Americans on the basics of when, where and how to plant milkweed.

North Atlantic right whales, with fewer than 340 remaining, are swimming closer and closer to extinction. Vertical fishing lines and boat strikes injure and kill these majestic marine mammals. In addition to seeking government solutions, we are calling on Red Lobster and Whole Foods to help create a market for whale-safe lobster.

Red wolves once roamed from Pennsylvania to Florida and as far west as Missouri and Texas. Today, only a tiny population of less than 20 wolves is hanging on in North Carolina’s Albemarle Peninsula. Small and shy, these wolves are threatened by habitat loss, hunters and vehicle collisions. However, things are looking up for the red wolf. In 2022, a litter of six pups was born. They were the first pups born in the wild in 4 years.

Rusty patched bumblebees made history in 2017. After the species’ population plummeted by nearly 90% since the 1990s, it became the first bumblebee in the continental U.S. on the endangered species list. To ensure the species’ survival, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) needs to protect the bees’ critical habitat.

Southern Resident orcas, which live off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, are in deep trouble. Fewer than 75 remain. They are dying from starvation because they encounter fewer salmon to eat. We are calling for the breaching of dams along the Snake River, which would help the necessary salmon to thrive.

Su Kim via NOAA Fishersie | Public Domain
Southern Resident orca catches a delicious salmon.