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Why Was the Endangered Species Act Passed, and What Has It Accomplished?

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Decades before the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973, President Theodore Roosevelt realized that the wild world he had come to enjoy was slowly and inexorably being destroyed. The corners of the map were all but filled in, and the great beasts that he hunted and treasured were not nearly as plentiful as they had previously been. So Teddy decided to do something about it. 

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Roosevelt continued to make strides in early conservation and the trend carried on, in small, fairly innocuous ways for the next half-century, until the entire world finally decided that they needed to do something more. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 was created to protect animals and plants that were in danger of becoming extinct. But what were the political and ecological motivations that ultimately prompted this dynamic action?

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When was the first official conservation act passed?

Teddy Roosevelt was a lifetime sportsman and game hunter. It’s a strange thing for someone who is now so universally known as a conservationist. But despite the fact that many of the trophies from those hunts now adorn the still and silent halls of the American Natural History Museum, Roosevelt was deeply affected by the plight of many of them. 

He hated that their habitats were being destroyed, and he hated the unsportsmanlike agenda that put urbanization ahead of the natural world. After much posturing (his chosen communication method) Teddy Roosevelt finally moved the nation to act. In 1903, he created the first National Wildlife Refuge at Pelican Island, Fla. He created more than a few national parks over the course of his life as well, but effective as his efforts ultimately were, the world at large was still unmoved. 

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When was the Endangered Species Act first passed?

Believe it or not, the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) was not the first act of its kind. It came on the heels of the 1969 Endangered Species Conservation Act (ESCA), an act which said quite a lot but did very little. Despite the shortcomings of the ESCA, as far as the U.S. government was concerned, they had taken the first meaningful steps towards protecting vulnerable species. They were not wrong. 

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The ESCA had made some strides in the fight to protect endangered species, but it wasn’t until the ESA was revisited in 1973 that the world finally worked together to combat the growing problem. Many species had already gone extinct as a direct result of human interference: the Tasmanian thylacine, the great auk, and the famously delicious dodo bird. The people who were ultimately responsible for the ESA did not want to see any other species end up that way. 

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Is the Endangered Species Act only an American initiative?

When the act was passed in 1973, it was designed to act in concert with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an act which saw 80 nations working together to protect endangered species across the globe. The ESA was the American arm of the CITES agreement and it was and is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, though the agency's staff are not the only officials involved.

To this day, those who work on behalf of the ESA are often called to work in tandem with representatives from around the world. They work with governments, independent organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace, and anyone who is called to protect endangered animal or plant species.

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Has the Endangered Species Act been effective?

Several species have been saved by this act, including the American alligator, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, brown pelican, American bison, and many non-American plants and animals as well. All of these species have been to the very brink but rebounded as a direct result of the efforts the ESA has enabled officials to make on their behalf. 

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Some opponents of the act say that the process is too slow and that not enough is being done on a global scale. Other opponents, those who have more selfish motivations in mind, argue that the actions committed on behalf of the ESA hinder economic growth. They say that conservationists stymie societal expansion and business interests, but of course, they would say that. 

Of the 41,415 plant and animal species on the IUCN Red List, 16,306 of them are endangered and threatened with extinction. This number is up from in the previous year, but those who believe in the same conservation efforts of President Roosevelt will continue fighting, no matter the cost. That’s what Teddy would do. Bully!

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