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The Endangered Species Act Works: 100 Success Stories

The Endangered Species Act is one of the most successful environmental laws in U.S. history and America’s foremost tool for protecting biodiversity. Its purpose is to prevent the extinction of our most at-risk plants and animals, increase their numbers, and effect their full recovery — and, eventually, their removal from the endangered list.

Currently, the Act protects more than 1,000 species in the United States.

Quantitative measures of the Act’s success:

• Very, very few species have gone extinct once granted protection under the Act.
• The longer a species is listed under the Act, the more likely it is to be recovering.
• Species with critical habitat designated under the Act are twice as likely to be recovering as those without critical habitat.
• Species with recovery plans are more likely to be recovering than those without plans.
• The more money is spent on a species, the more likely that species is to be recovering.

Click on the map to find species in your region

There are hundreds of species whose populations have soared thanks to the Endangered Species Act. A Center study of all endangered species in the northeastern United States found that 93 percent increased or remained stable since being placed on the endangered list; this extraordinary success rate represents a fair sample that can be extrapolated nationwide.

Among the species to benefit are the bald eagle (which increased from 416 to 9,789 pairs between 1963 and 2006); the whooping crane (which increased from 54 to 513 birds between 1967 and 2006); the Kirtland’s warbler (which increased from 210 to 1,415 pairs between 1971 and 2005); the peregrine falcon (which increased from 324 to 1,700 pairs between 1975 and 2000); the gray wolf (whose populations increased dramatically in the Northern Rockies, Southwest, and Great Lakes); the gray whale (which increased from 13,095 to 26,635 whales between 1968 and 1998); and the grizzly bear (which increased from about 224 to over 500 bears in the Yellowstone area between 1975 and 2005).

The map above shows 100 recovery success stories spanning every U.S. state and territory. Click on any region to find species on the road to recovery — you can learn about the Big Bend gambusia, a tiny Texas fish that increased from a couple dozen holdouts on the knife-edge of extinction to a thriving population of over 50,000; the state bird of Hawaii, the Hawaiian goose, which increased from 400 birds in 1980 to 1,275 in 2003; or the Virginia big-eared bat, the state bat of Virginia, which increased from 3,500 in 1979 to 18,442 in 2004, to name but a few.

There’s California’s southern sea otter, which increased from 1,789 in 1976 to 2,735 in 2005, while the state’s tiny San Clemente Indian paintbrush increased from 500 plants in 1979 to more than 3,500 in 1997. Or there’s Florida’s red wolf, which increased from 17 in 1980 to 257 in 2003, while the state’s Key deer increased from 200 in 1971 to 750 in 2001.

The imperiled plants and animals who share our deserts, forests, rivers and oceans have much to be thankful for in the Endangered Species Act.

Photo © Phillip Colla