The Endangered Species Act plays an important role in saving our nation's most at-risk wildlife from extinction. Read on to learn about the life-saving efforts that led to celebrated comebacks for six species.
In the 1960s, a mere 500 bald eagles could be found soaring across America's lower 48 states. Dangerous pesticides and chemicals, released into bald eagle habitats, thinned the shells of their eggs, killing their young. At the lowest recorded point, slightly more than 400 breeding pairs of bald eagles were found in the lower 48 states in 1963. The outlook was not good for our national symbol.
Thanks to the protections afforded by the Endangered Species Act, bald eagle numbers have rebounded to more than 14,000 breeding pairs of bald eagles today. Captive breeding programs, habitat protection, and a ban on DDT (a chemical compound used to kill insects) contributed to the successful recovery of this American symbol. The species has made an astounding comeback thanks to the amazing work of American citizens, businesses, scientists and the U.S. government. These diverse groups came together to help protect bald eagles under the authority of the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
A 1989 census indicated that the Florida panther population had dropped to between 30 to 50 individuals. This decline was the result of habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation.
Today, the species population is still below 250 individuals, but without Endangered Species Act protections the panther would likely be extinct. These protections include captive breeding, habitat protection, wildlife underpass construction and the introduction of Texas cougars to prevent inbreeding.
Gray wolves once ranged across the entire North American continent. However, as a result of poisoning and trapping by ranchers, farmers, and government agents, by the mid-20th century only a few hundred of the species remained in the entire lower 48 states.
Today, thanks to Endangered Species Act protections, more than 6,000 gray wolves reside across the lower 48 states. The gray wolf’s success is a result of stimulated efforts such as public education about the species, habitat restoration, wolf introduction into various areas, and compensation of ranchers for livestock killed by wolves.
Within the lower 48 states, grizzly bear populations have been reduced to a mere two percent of their former range due to a combination of excessive hunting, conversion of habitat to human uses and fragmentation of habitat caused by such things as extensive networks of logging roads. Grizzly bears were brought under federal management when they were listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1975. At that time fewer than 250 bears occupied the Yellowstone area.
Since then, the coordinated efforts of state and federal agencies, conservation organizations and private citizens have increased this population to more than 700 bears. In total, an estimated 1,400 to 1,800 bears occupy habitat in the lower 48 states, including portions of Glacier National Park and adjacent areas in Montana and in northern Washington adjacent to the Canadian border.
A 1964 survey found that peregrine falcons did not inhabit a single cliff in the eastern United States or Canadian maritime provinces. By 1970, a mere 10 to 20 percent of the historical falcon population remained, due to egg and nestling collection, intentional shooting and DDT use.
Endangered Species Act protections for the falcon included captive breeding, preventing human disturbances to nesting and protection and enhancement of critical breeding and wintering habitat. As a result, populations are thriving. The species was delisted in 1999, and today there are about 3,000 breeding pairs of peregrines in North America.
In the 1960s, a study predicted that the red-cockaded woodpecker would become extinct due to logging, deforestation and fire suppression. Fewer than 15,000 of these birds survive in about one percent of its former range.
Thanks to the Act, restrictions were placed on habitat destruction and since 1995, more than 2.5 million acres of private lands have been enrolled in conservation programs, leading the woodpecker toward recovery.
Endangered Species Day, which falls on the third Friday in May each year, is a day to celebrate endangered species success stories and learn about species still in danger. Learn what the National Wildlife Federation is doing to protect endangered species and how to support Endangered Species Day.
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