Science & Environment
1:41 pm
Mon August 26, 2013

Endangered Species Act Marks Fortieth Anniversary

The piping plover is threatened throughout its range, including Massachusetts, and endangered in the Great Lakes watershed.
Credit Bill Byrne / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Northeast Region

The Endangered Species Act celebrates its fortieth anniversary this year. It has been hailed by some as the strongest environmental law we have, decried by others as an impediment to economic growth.

Here’s a quick guide to the landmark legislation:

When was the Endangered Species Act passed?  The Endangered Species Act was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on December 28, 1973. It was not the first federal law to protect species threatened by human activities, but it established a zero tolerance policy for extinction.

How many species are on the Endangered Species list?  2105 species of plants and animals (no fungi or microbes on the list) are currently listed as either threatened or endangered.

How many species have been removed from the Endangered Species Act?  There are three reasons a species can be removed from the list: recovery, extinction, or taxonomic reclassification (scientists deciding that what they thought was one species is actually another). To date, 26 species have recovered sufficiently to be delisted, and 10 U.S.-based species have been declared extinct (most of those were probably extinct at the time of listing). A 2012 study by the Center for Biological Diversity concluded that 90% of species on the list are recovering at the expected rate.

How much does the Endangered Species Act cost?  In 2011, expenditures related to the Endangered Species Act – both federal and state - totaled nearly $1.6 billion.

What are the major causes of species extinction?  The Endangered Species Act was originally envisioned to deal largely with the over-harvesting of wildlife (think passenger pigeons, whales, or salmon), but habitat destruction, invasive species and climate change are among the top threats facing many species. Scientists estimate the current rate of species extinction is at least 100 times the average rate found in the fossil record, and that human activities are the cause.