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Endangered Species Day: 40th Anniversary of the Endangered Species Act

Endangered Species Day began as an act of Congress and is held annually on the third Friday of May. This year's Endangered Species Day will mark the 40th anniversary of the adoption of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a legislation that revolutionized the American conservation landscape.  In 1973, President Richard Nixon signed the new bill into law, after his appeal to the 93rdCongress for a more comprehensive and effective legislation concerning imperiled species.


Under the Act, species can be listed as endangered or threatened.  Endangered species are considered to be approaching extinction, while the threatened ones are likely to become endangered in the near future.  The ESA not only protects the plants and animals it lists – it also gives the power to its lead agencies – the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – to delineate and protect critical habitats that are crucial for the preservation of the protected species. 


As of January 2013, 2,054 flora and fauna species were listed as endangered or threatened, of which 1,436 occur in the United States.  The enforcement of the ESA has seen considerable success over the last 40 years.  Only about 1% of the listed species have gone extinct, with the rest seeing their populations stabilizing or increasing. Among the most hailed success stories of the Act are the recovery of the Bald Eagle, the black-footed ferret, the California condor, and the grizzly bear. 


The 40th anniversary of the ESA is also an occasion to remember that the Act has over the years been in danger itself.  Many politicians and business agents have tried to undermine the Act’s broad powers, as detailed in a report by the Defenders of Wildlife.  Recent legislation facilitating the pesticide-intensive GMO crops and the decision to put the Dune Sagebrush Lizard under the protection of states instead of the ESA are examples of such efforts.  The Center for Biological Diversity has been at the forefront of the fight to safeguard the act from special group interests.  It is currently recruiting supporters of the ESA in order to send out a strong signal to Washington that Americans support the Act more than ever.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will organize a series of events throughout the entire year to commemorate the adoption of the ESA.  It has also launched a special website dedicated to the legislation, where the public and the media can learn more about the ESA and its success stories.  The site also features a map that shows the status of endangered species in each state and provides many educational tools.  Various other events will also be held by local zoos, parks, aquariums, wildlife refuges, schools, libraries, and community centers throughout the year.


Endangered Species Day is marked by many environmental organizations– the Endangered Species Coalition’s has a dedicated website – one of the one-stop gateways to the yearly celebration – which offers a variety of resources to help spread awareness about the importance of protecting endangered species.  The Coalition’s site also features a special calendar of local events.  A similar list of events is available through the Center for Biological Diversity.  The National Wildlife Federation also provides some information on how to celebrate through its special webpage.  Additional resources can be found at U.S. FWS.