A Brief History of the Endangered Species Act
In the first few decades of the 1900’s, the apparent decline of native species like the bison, passenger pigeon, whooping crane, and bald eagle raised public and scientific awareness around wildlife conservation. Congress attempted to address these concerns by passing the Lacey Act of 1900 (which prohibits illegal animal trade), the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (which protects against over-hunting), and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940 (which protects eagle nests, feathers, and eggs), but populations of many key species continued to decline.
The first precursors to the ESA came in the 1960s. First, Congress passed the Endangered Species Preservation Act in 1966, which created the first official list of protected species, but the list was limited to fish and wildlife game species. The Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969 expanded the list of protected species and called for an international treaty to conserve wildlife.
Finally, in an effort to solidify comprehensive endangered species act protection, President Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act on December 28, 1973. The Act requires much more extensive protection for our country’s threatened and endangered species from extinction and protection of their critical habitat from destruction. The Act specifically challenges federal agencies to protect endangered and threatened species as part of their actions, but the Act itself applies well beyond federal agencies to all state and local governments, private businesses, and the general public.
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