In 1973 Congress Passed the Endangered Species Act-Now Under Attack

Information provided by: Sierra Club, Founded 1892, Explore, enjoy and protect the planet.


Congress passed the Endangered Species Act-one of America’s strongest and most successful conservation measures-to protect plants and animals in danger of becoming extinct, and today, this extremely important and most significant piece of endangered species legislation is under attack. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed that all Endangered Species Act protections be removed for the gray wolf in the lower 48 states, allowing this iconic species to become a victim of unlimited hunting, trapping, and poisoning across the United States.

Now, the wolf is considered fair game for hunting by any method including trapping-a painful, inhumane, and cowardly way to kill.

Without a strong and enforced Endangered Species Act, the Florida panther(with only around 100-160 left alive!] could disappear… polar bears could be extinct from Alaska in our lifetimes… the California bighorn sheep would have no hope of further recovery… and grizzlies, lynx, cranes, and other imperiled wildlife could be pushed to the brink of extinction.

Working together, we can overcome the deep pockets and political clout of the oil industry, logging and mining companies, developers, and other anti-environmental special interests. The Endangered Species Act was originally implemented at the Sierra Club’s urging.

Congress’ 2011 decision to remove Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho led to widespread mass killings by “trophy” hunters, ranchers, and farmers. And the gray wolf is not the only species at risk. Without strong federal laws to protect them, hundreds of species on the brink of extinction could be wiped out forever.

Once They’re Gone…They’re Lost Forever

  • Pacific Northwest

  • Wild Salmon, All five salmon species that spawn in the Pacific Northwest chum, chinook, sockeye, pink, and Coho-now face extinction and are protected under the ESA. The near-extinction of wild salmon has been driven by poorly managed logging on public and private lands, disease spread from fish farms, irrigation for industrial agriculture, and dams that cut off access to spawing areas.  The Sierra Club’s Wild Salmon Campaign is working to empower people to secure better land and water use practices from their government so that salmon will have the clean, free-flowing water they need to survive.


Peninsular Bighorn Sheep, In the arid canyons and mountains in Southern California, the Peninsular bighorn sheep is already challenged by habitat destruction from sprawl and roads. Global warming-created droughts are likely to compound the problem of dwindling habitat.

  • Alaska

  • Polar Bear, It is estimated that 20,000 polar bears live in the five nations that circle the Arctic. Despite this creature’s amazing hunting skills, the most significant issue for the bear’s survival is the decline of the sea ice caused by global warming.
  • Rocky Mountains

  • Grizzly Bear, With fewer than 1,300 grizzly bears remaining in the lower 48 states, the courts have recently acted to keep the Yellowstone grizzly bear protected under the ESA. It is already clear that global warming has been affecting conifer forest habitat and a major grizzly bear food source-Whitebark pine nuts.
  • Gray Wolf, The gray wolf once roamed throughout North America, but by the time the ESA became law in 1973, it had been virtually exterminated by shooting, trapping, and poisoning. Since being placed under ESA protections, wolf populations increased… but the recent loosening of protections by Congress has already led trophy hunters and ranchers to kill over 1,700 wolves.  And now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has removed all protections for gray wolves across most of the lower 48 states, placing wolves in grave danger.
  • Southwest

  • Jaguar, The jaguar once ranged from the Grand Canyon to Argentia. Sadly, by the 20th century, the loss of habitat to development and shooting had largely pushed jaguars from the U.S., and the jaguar was one of the first wild cats to be listed under the ESA. New confirmed sightings of jaguars in the U.S. coupled with their protection under the ESA, led to the formation of the Jaguar Conservation Team.  To date, conservation efforts have centered on education, research and monitoring to determine the species’ needs. These and other efforts motivated by the ESA will help to ensure that the jaguar remains a part of America’s natural heritage.
  • The Heartland

  • Whooping Crane, In 1937, only two small breeding populations of whooping cranes ramained.  Thanks to the protections of the ESA, whopping cranes have now increased to about 300 in the wild.  However, pothole prairie wetlands, vital habitat for all waterfowl species, are predicted to shrink due to global warming, which could put the birds in jeopardy once again.
  • Black-footed Ferret, By the 1970s, the black-footed ferret was presumed extinct. Then, in 1981, a colony of 129 blackfooted ferrets was found in a prairie dog town in Wyoming.  Sadly, the number of ferrets sharply declined to only 18 individuals within four years following an outbreak of disease.  Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service collected the remaining ferrets to breed them in captivity and release their offspring into the wild to restore the species.  The goal of the black-footed ferret recovery plan is to reintroduce an additional 1,500 ferrets into the wild and establish breeding populations.  Currently, the black-footed ferret remains one of North America’s most endangered mammals.
  • Hawaii

Hawaiian Monk Seal, The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the most endangered marine mammals in the United States.  It is estimated that there are 1,500 Hawaiian monk seals in the wild today, with most conservation efforts centered on research, monitoring, and education.

  • Great Lakes

Kirtland’s Warbler, One of the world’s rarest birds, the Kirtland’s warbler was one of the first to be listed as endangered after the ESA was passed by Congress in 1973.  Nesting only in the young jack pine forest unigue to Michigan, the Kirtland’s warbler population has declined drastically due to dwindling nesting habitat.  Forest managers are working to recreate nesting habitat for these special creatures each year.  Sadly, habitat management along with protections from the ESA, are the only reasons the Kirtland’s warbler is not yet extinct.

  • Northeast

Canada Lynx, A rare animal in the lower 48 states, the Canada lynx was protected under the ESA in 2000.  Research now shows that changes to the annual snowpack caused by global warming may already be hurting the ability of the lynx to hunt its primary food source, the snowshoe hare.

  • Southeast

  • Florida Panther, The Florida Panther once ranged from Arkansas to the Carolinas and south to the Florida Everglades.  Unfortunately, centuries of shooting, the loss of habitat to agricultural and urban development, and mercury poisoning have pushed the panther into the Southeast’s last redoubts of wilderness in southern Florida.  Today, an estmated 100-160 panthers remain in the wild.  With Florida one of the fastest-growing states, the conservation measures of the ESA are the only thing standing between the Florida panther and extinction.
  • Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle, The Kemp’s Ridly sea turtle is one of the most seriously endangered of the sea turtles.  Their nesting population reached an all-time low in 1985 with only 702 nests.  This decline is largely due to human activities, including the direct harvest of adults and eggs and incidental capture in commercial fishing operations.  Focused conservation efforts in recent years have helped increase the nesting population by placing protections on nesting females as well as requiring the use of turtle excluder devices in shrimp trawls.  Currently, with the strict protections in place by the ESA, the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle appears to be inthe early stages of recovery.

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