Forty years ago this
week, the Endangered Species Act was signed into law by President Richard Nixon,
making the United States the first nation on Earth to declare a basic right of
existence for species other than our own.
The goal of the ESA was
simple: keep species from going extinct, no matter the cost. This was a law
with a conscience, and by and large it has worked. Today about 40 percent of
the plants and animals listed as endangered in the U.S. are stable or improving;
many would be gone without it.
Some species have
recovered to such extent that they have been delisted - taken off the
Endangered Species List. Many are
Left: The Gray Whale
(Eschrichtius robustus), which has rebounded in numbers after hunting of the
sea giants was banned, was the first sea mammal to be taken off the Endangered
Species List. It is still guarded by the Marine Mammal
By CBSNews.com senior
producer David Morgan
Credit: Merrill Gosho/NOAA
A Palau Fantail Flycatcher (Rhipidura lepida), photographed in
Koror Palau by Devon Pike, was delisted, as was the Palau Ground Dove (Gallicolumba
Forty-seven species have been delisted from the Endangered Species
List owing to recovery or to improved data collection about their populations. Nearly
two dozen more species have been downlisted from "endangered" to "threatened,"
as threats to the species and their habitats are reduced.
Credit: Devon Pike/Wikipedia
Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel
The Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus
Tennessee Purple Coneflower
Tennessee Purple Coneflower (Echinacea
tennesseensis), photographed by Dr. Thomas G. Barnes of the University of
Credit: Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, courtesy of USFWS
American Peregrine Falcon
Two sub-species of the Peregrine Falcon,
including the American Peregrine (Falco
peregrinus anatum), have
recovered. Despite delisting, the peregrine continues to be
protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Delisted species have no legal protective status under the ESA,
but under an amendment to the law scientists continue to monitor populations for
a minimum of five years after delisting.
Magazine Mountain Shagreen
Magazine Mountain Shagreen (Mesodon magazinensis), a tiny
snail found in the Ozarks of Arkansas, was the first invertebrate removed from
the federal Endangered Species List, thanks to restoration efforts at its
Credit: Ron Caldwell, Lincoln Memorial University/Courtesy of FWS
Lake Erie Water Snake
Biologist Angela Boyer holds a Lake Erie Water
Snake (Nerodia sipedon insularum) during an annual survey. Listed as
endangered in 1999, the species was delisted in 2011.
The Concho Water Snake (Nerodia paucimaculata), found in
Texas, has also been delisted.
Credit: Megan Seymour/USFWS
American endangered species protections have
also been extended to species beyond U.S. territories, such as the red kangaroo
(left, wandering onto the Vines Golf Course in Perth, Australia), in order to ban the import of the species or
products derived from them.
Three kangaroo species were listed as threatened
in 1974 due to commercial exploitation, but populations have recovered after
four Australian states enacted stricter wildlife management programs.
Credit: Stuart Hannagan/ALLSPORT
Hoover's Woolly Star
A native plant of
California, Hoover's Woolly-star (Eriastrum hooveri) was delisted owing to the
protections afforded by its growth on public lands, and a greater abundance than
previously recorded by biologists.
Credit: Bureau of Land Management
Pesticides wiped out the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) in Louisiana in the 1960s, but the bird was reintroduced and was brought back from the brink of extinction.
Credit: Thomas Maurer/FWS
Eggert's Sunflower (Helianthus eggertii),
a plant native to Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky, was removed from the federal
list of endangered and threatened plants in 2005, primarily after successful recovery
efforts at Arnold Air Force Base in Tennessee, home to the largest known
occurrence of the Eggert's Sunflower.
Aleutian Canada Goose
mid-1970s, the Aleutian Canada Goose (Branta canadensis leucopareia), a
subspecies of Canada geese found
on Alaska's Aleutian Islands and in areas of the Pacific Northwest, numbered
only in the hundreds. Today, after efforts by the Fish and Wildlife Service and
through partnerships with Canada and private landowners, the numbers have
rebounded, and the threat of extinction has passed.
Credit: Glen Smart/FWS
Alaska Refuge Supervisor Dave Spencer bands an Aleutian Canada Gosling on Buldir Island in the Aleutians in this 1975 photo.
Credit: Jim Bartonek/FWS
Once close to extinction, the Robbins' cinquefoil (Potentilla
robbinsiana), found in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, has recovered, and
was the first plant species to be removed from the Endangered Species List.
In 1963 nesting pairs of the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus
leucocephalus) numbered as low as 400 in the lower 48 states. The species' dramatic
recovery (there are as many as 10,000 nesting pairs today) led to its delisting
Credit: Karen Laubenstein/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
The Maguire Daisy (Erigeron maguirei) lives only on cliffsides in Southern Utah.
Credit: Michelle Dela Cruz, National Park Service
Columbian White-Tailed Deer
Habitat conservation efforts, including the founding of the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge in Washington State,
have led to the recovery of the Columbian White-tailed Deer
(Odocoileus virginianus leucurus), found in Oregon and Washington.
Hunting and habitat loss led to the decline in
Southern states of the American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis). Listing
on the ESA led to its recovery, but it shares some protections when it shares
habitat with the endangered American Crocodile, which is closely resembles.
Credit: Rodney Cammauf/National Park Service
The gray wolf (Canis lupus), which has been delisted in some parts of the United States; the Fish & Wildlife Service recently held a public comment period on delisting the species throughout the lower 48 States, while also expanding recovery efforts for the Mexican Wolf (Canis lupus baileyi).