Today, May 20th is Endangered Species Day, a celebration of America’s wildlife and of the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act in recovering the plants and animals most at risk of extinction.
Because of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), our lives are indeed richer. Wildlife that were once threatened with extinction are now restoring balance to damaged ecosystems across the country, as the ESA not only protects species but the key habitats upon which they depend. And Americans are reaping $1.6 trillion dollars per year in benefits provided by wildlife and habitat conservation in the form of food, medicine, clean air and water, flood protection and wildlife recreation.
Just look at the track record of the Endangered Species Act, our nation’s unrivaled tool for protecting species on the brink of extinction. Since it was enacted 43 years ago, the Endangered Species Act has been 99 percent effective at preventing the extinction of listed species.
Here are just a few examples of the success towards species recovery we’ve been able to achieve together:
- Bald Eagle – Our national symbol nearly disappeared throughout most of our country. Today, 9,000 bald eagle pairs can be found across the United States.
- Southern Sea Otter – This iconic resident of the California coast was hunted almost to extinction for its thick fur coat. Since being added to the endangered species list in 1977, the population has slowly increased to about 2,800 otters today.
- Apache Trout – When it was placed on the endangered species list, the Apache trout was near extinction. Thanks to riverbank habitat restoration and hatchery breeding programs under the ESA, several million trout have been released into the wild, and there are now nearly 30 self-sustaining populations of the fish.
- Peregrine Falcon – By 1975, the use of pesticides like DDT had reduced the population of the world’s fastest bird to just 324 nesting pairs. Today, there are between 2,000 and 3,000 breeding pairs in North America, and the falcon was removed from the endangered species list in 1999.
- Black-Footed Ferret – Habitat destruction from plowing, exotic diseases and widespread poisoning of its prey—prairie dogs—almost caused North America’s black-footed ferret to disappear for good. Thanks to the ESA, a successful ferret captive-breeding program was initiated in 1987 and continues to this day – successfully saving this species from the brink of extinction.
- Humpback Whale – Prior to the rise of the whaling industry, humpback whale populations numbered as high as 125,000 in the North Pacific. But by the 1960s there were only 1,200 humpback whales left. Thanks to recovery efforts made possible by the ESA, today’s population is above 22,000 and local communities in Washington reap economic benefit. Whales entertain more than 6 million watchers in the United States and Canada; reports conclude that whale watching is a $1 billion a year industry.
- Stellar Sea Lion – The Steller sea lion was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1990 after populations were reduced from commercial exploitation. In 1979, eastern Steller sea lion counts were as low as 18,040. Today scientists estimate there are over 70,000 eastern Steller sea lions.
Of course, our work isn’t done. Habitat destruction, accelerating climate change and development are among emerging threats to imperiled species.
But today, let’s take a pause and celebrate what we’ve worked together to achieve. Let’s let today’s Endangered Species Day give us renewed energy to tackle these challenges and continue our work together to protect America’s most endangered species.