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The Endangered Species Act went into effect in 1973 to protect animals who were categorized as endangered or threatened. Under the Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) can prevent people from damaging the species’ habitats and hunting the species. The Act also outlined plans for recovery that were meant to be executed at the state level in order to prevent further population decline.
Despite being on of the most successful acts ever enacted by Congress, the Trump Administration has begun rolling back some of the Act’s protections. The New York Times reports that the loosened rules will “make it easier to remove a species from the endangered list and weaken protections for threatened species.” Revisions to the Act will also make it harder to accurately measure the effects of climate change on these species.
Over the years, the Act has saved endangered animals—and plants—such as the bald eagle and the Tennessee purple coneflower. Here are just 8 (of the more than 200) animals and plants that rely on the Endangered Species Act for their survival.
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The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is touted as the Endangered Species Act’s crowning jewel. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the bald eagle nearly went extinct forty years ago.
“Habitat destruction and degradation, illegal shooting, and contaminated food sources decimated the eagle population,” says U.S. Fish and Wildlife. In 1972, Eagles were given protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and a year later, when the Act was put into effect, bald eagles were added to the endangered list.
1982 saw the introduction of the Southwestern Bald Eagle Recovery Plan, which increased populations by tracking their breeding and migration patterns, sources of food, and assessing unnatural disturbances such as the pesticide DDT.
In 1995, bald eagles went from endangered to threatened and in 1999, U.S. Fish and Wildlife proposed delisting the species entirely thanks to increased population numbers. Finally, in the summer of 2007, the bald eagle was removed from the Threatened and Endangered Species list.
The Act designated protected habitats in order to help eagle populations grow—without it, the national bird once again faces endangerment.
Although current grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) populations are stable, that wasn’t always the case. The grizzly, a subspecies of the brown bear, can grow up to eight feet tall and can weigh a whopping 800-pounds.
The massive mammal made the threatened species list in 1975 largely due to development. According to National Geographic, grizzlies once roamed “western North America” but saw their numbers decline, in part, to “European settlement.”
Today, grizzly populations are stable and listed as “least concern.”
Tennessee Purple Coneflower
The perennial Tennessee purple coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis) can easily be mistaken for a daisy. The flower thrives in hot, dry weather and is native to a small 14-mile span of land in Tennessee.
Rapid land development in Nashville led to a decrease in purple coneflower numbers which landed it on the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Plants in 1979—only the second plant to be granted endangered protections.
Governments at the state and federal levels created conservation plans to prevent the extinction of the purple coneflower, which was removed from the endangered list in 2011.
The peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) is a bird of prey with few predators to worry about with the exception of raccoons and great-horned owls who are brave enough to snatch chicks and eggs from a falcon nest.
It’s actually humans who pose the greatest threat to the species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that “shooting, stealing eggs and young, poisoning, and habitat destruction” contribute to the downsize in falcon populations.
DDT decimated peregrine falcon populations after World War II. According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife, DDT not only killed adult falcons but made reproduction increasingly more difficult thanks to its eggshell thinning properties. Falcons who weren’t killed by DDT were rendered infertile, adding to their decrease in numbers.
Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) populations are on the rise after facing an alarming decline in the 19th and 20th centuries due to whaling.
The magnificent sea mammals still face environmental problems that threaten their numbers such as polluted oceans. Humpbacks were one of the first animals to be protected under the Endangered Species Conservation Act—an early version of the ESA.
After former President Richard Nixon passed the ESA in 1973, humpbacks were listed as endangered “wherever found.” A 1985 moratorium on whaling helped increase population numbers, which currently stand at approximately 80,000 though that number is fragile and the species remains endangered.
The vulnerable Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris) is seeing a decline in population numbers and falls under the status of “threatened.” The aquatic mammal lives in the Atlantic, near Florida and Puerto Rico.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in 1991, there were 1,267 manatees in the wild. Currently, that number is closer to 13,000 with half of them residing in the waters surrounding Florida and Puerto Rico and the rest being spread between Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, and off the coast of northern Brazil.
Sadly, the number one cause of manatee death is boat collisions. To reduce the chances of a crash, there are designated slow zones in the water that alert boat drivers they are in a manatee high-density area.
The whooping crane (Grus americana) nearly went extinct thanks to “unregulated hunting and habitat destruction,” per the Center for Biological Diversity. If the rollbacks to the Endangered Species Act take effect, the whooping crane will be one of hundreds of animals affected.
By the 1800s, crane numbers were around 1,400–a stark contrast with the mere 21 that were in existence by 1938. The crane was listed as endangered in 1967 with 48 birds living in the wild and six in captivity.
In 1978, protected lands throughout Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas were designated as whooping crane territory. In 2006, whooping crane populations stood at 513 and in 2011, that number increased to 599. Currently, wild whooping crane nests can only be found in Wisconsin, central Florida, and Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park
The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) once thrived in the central grasslands ranging from south Canada through Texas. Today, it remains a highly endangered species thanks a widespread decrease in the population of their main food source, the prairie dog.
The Center for Biological Diversity estimates that there were nearly 5 million black-footed ferrets in the U.S. in the early 1900s. This number had gotten so low in 1967 that the ferret was labeled ‘endangered’ before (seemingly) going extinct.
That was until a small population of black-footed ferrets was discovered in 1981 in Wyoming. In an eight year span between 1991 and 1999, over a thousand ferrets from this newly found population were released throughout the Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota wilderness. Currently, the black-footed ferret population is estimated to stand 1,400+ strong.
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