The Endangered Species Act turns 50

And bald eagles are soaring

Andy Morffew | CC-BY-2.0
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Susan Holmes

Former Director, Save America’s Wildlife Campaign, Environment America

Not all that long ago, any sighting of a bald eagle was a very special occasion. In the 1960s, there were fewer than 500 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states. 

Fast forward to 2021. A survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that the number of bald eagles had soared to an estimated 316,700 in the lower 48. At a press event, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland called the comeback of our national bird a “historic conservation success story.”     

It’s our job to make the eagles’ success story just one of many.

The Endangered Species Act, passed into law in 1973 with overwhelming bipartisan support, acts as a safety net to prevent extinction, sustain imperiled plants and animals, and protect the ecosystems on which they depend. 

As the Act turns 50 this year, the public and policy makers have an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to protecting biodiversity.

The Endangered Species Act is working

The Endangered Species Act has become one of our strongest and most important conservation laws. It has helped recover many of the nation’s wildlife treasures that neared the brink of disappearing. More than 99% of species ever listed as threatened or endangered are still with us and many more are on the path to recovery.

That explains why the law is popular across the United States, transcending political differences: 84% of surveyed Americans say they support it.

Bernard Spragg | Public Domain

A biodiversity crisis

Yet not all the news is good. We continue to face an extinction crisis.

With one in five U.S. species in danger of extinction and with global wildlife populations falling nearly 70% since 1970, we are facing a potentially devastating loss of biodiversity. Species that have been with us for millennia such as the right whale, the Florida panther and the monarch butterfly are at risk of disappearing. 

A fully funded Endangered Species Act will protect at-risk species such as the rusty patched bumblebee and benefit people by maintaining the natural systems that give us clean air and water.

The Act protects — or in government parlance, “lists” — more than 1,600 animals and plants. Hundreds more are waiting to be listed. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to protect our endangered species and the special places they call home. 

In an interview in 2021, Secretary Haaland said, “We have got to do better by this planet and we need to do it now.” 

We concur. We need to better fund the law so that more species can be protected, and we need to stop several congressional bills to weaken the Act. Let’s celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act by doing this, and more.


Susan Holmes

Former Director, Save America’s Wildlife Campaign, Environment America

Steve Blackledge

Senior Director, Conservation America Campaign, Environment America

Steve directs Environment America’s efforts to protect our public lands and waters and the species that depend on them. He led our successful campaign to win full and permanent funding for our nation’s best conservation and recreation program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund. He previously oversaw U.S. PIRG’s public health campaigns. Steve lives in Sacramento, California, with his family, where he enjoys biking and exploring Northern California.