The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) was passed by Congress in response to a call by President Richard Nixon for comprehensive legislation to protect endangered species. Drafted by a team of lawyers and scientists, the ESA revolutionized environmental conservation in the United States. The landmark legislation, called the Magna Carta of the environmental movement, was signed by Nixon on December 28, 1973.
The wildlife conservation movement in the U.S. started in the early 1900s with the near-extinction of once common animals such as bison, passenger pigeons, and whooping cranes. Efforts by Congress to protect endangered species were spotty at first. The earliest federal law protecting wildlife regulated the interstate commerce of animals and their parts or products. The laws that followed protected specific species, such as the Bald Eagle Protection Act, preserved the habitats of endangered species, or prohibited the import and sale of protected species.
The ESA greatly expanded those previous protections. Its stated purpose is to protect endangered and threatened species, and to conserve the ecosystems upon which those species depend. Implemented by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service, the ESA provides for the listing of species as threatened or endangered, recovery plans, and the designation of critical habitat for listed species. Under the Act, federal agencies are prohibited from authorizing, funding, or carrying out any action that would destroy or adversely modify designated critical habitat of protected species.
Since being listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA, a number of animal species populations have recovered. These include the whooping crane, the gray wolf, the gray whale, the grizzly bear, and our national symbol, the bald eagle.
This is the text of the Act, as last amended (2010)
§ 1531. Congressional findings and declaration of purposes and policy
The Congress finds and declares that
(4) the United States has pledged itself as a sovereign state in the international community to conserve to the extent practicable the various species of fish or wildlife and plants facing extinction, pursuant to
(5) encouraging the States and other interested parties, through Federal financial assistance and a system of incentives, to develop and maintain conservation programs which meet national and international standards is a key to meeting the Nations international commitments and to better safeguarding, for the benefit of all citizens, the Nations heritage in fish, wildlife, and plants.
The purposes of this chapter are to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved, to provide a program for the conservation of such endangered species and threatened species, and to take such steps as may be appropriate to achieve the purposes of the treaties and conventions set forth in subsection (a) of this section.
(1) It is further declared to be the policy of Congress that all Federal departments and agencies shall seek to conserve endangered species and threatened species and shall utilize their authorities in furtherance of the purposes of this chapter.
(2) It is further declared to be the policy of Congress that Federal agencies shall cooperate with State and local agencies to resolve water resource issues in concert with conservation of endangered species.