Current Events: The Endangered Species Act 50th Anniversary

The Endangered Species Act (ESA), enacted on December 28, 1973, represents a pivotal milestone in American environmental legislation. Aimed at addressing the escalating threats to biodiversity, the ESA is a legal framework designed to prevent the extinction of endangered and threatened species, emphasizing habitat preservation and recovery efforts. Passed by an unanimous Senate vote, an overwhelmingly bipartisan House, and signed into law by then President Richard Nixon, the ESA emerged as a response to concerns about the rapid decline of species and habitat degradation.

At its core, the ESA establishes a comprehensive legal foundation to protect imperiled species and the ecosystems crucial to their survival. The Act has been seen as a catalyst for scientific research, habitat preservation, and public awareness, fostering a holistic approach to conservation. Its implementation involves partnerships between federal, state, and tribal entities, emphasizing a collaborative and coordinated effort to tackle the complex challenges of species preservation. Over the past 50 years, the ESA has seen notable success stories, showcasing the recovery of species on the brink of extinction through targeted conservation measures. Species such as the bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and gray wolf have experienced significant rebound. Despite these achievements, the ESA has faced challenges, including debates over land-use restrictions and conflicts between conservation and economic interests.

As the ESA marks its 50th anniversary, it prompts reflection on its effectiveness and highlights the on-going debates around strategies to address contemporary environmental challenges. In the face of climate change and habitat degradation, the ESA underscores the importance of innovation, collaboration, and a steadfast commitment to safeguarding global biodiversity.

This week’s Current Events resources examines the Endangered Species Act and its 50th Anniversary since its passage. The resources shared provide information and context around the ESA, its goals, and the narratives surrounding its continued existence as cornerstone piece of environmental legislation.


Essential Questions:

  • What is the Endangered Species Act? 
  • How did the human activity in the decades leading up to the ESA’s passing play a part in its ultimate passage?
  • Why might ESA advocates determined that a federal law would be more effective than various state laws in the fight to protect endangered species?
  • In your opinion, has the Endangered Species Act achieved its goals in its first 50 years? Explain. 
  • In your opinion, is the Endangered Species Act still necessary in protecting species on the brink of extinction? 





The Endangered Species Act at 50, Dive In with NOAA Fisheries, May 19, 2023

The Endangered Species Act turns 50, Weekend Edition Sunday, NPR, December 24, 2023

Celebrating 50 Years of the Endangered Species Act – How This US Law Has Helped Protect Bald Eagles, Giant Pandas, and More
, Nature Breaking, WWF, January 9, 2024

Reflecting on 50 years of the Endangered Species Act, Soundside, NPR 101: A Podcast

Background Resources:

ESA Basics, 50 Years of Conserving Endangered Species, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services, U.S. Department of the Interior 

Endangered Species (Infographic), National Geographic

A Wild Promise: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, Oregon Wild

Endangered Species Act: 50 Years of Saving Species, Endangered Species Act at 50

Summary of the Endangered Species Act, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Case Law Index Endangered Species Act, The National Agricultural Law Center

Recent Articles:

The Endangered Species Act by the numbers, High Country News, December 1, 2023

Endangered Species Act’s 50th anniversary: What 6 NW animals can tell us, The Seattle Times, December 24, 2023

50 years ago, Democrats and Republicans agreed to protect endangered species, USA today, December 28, 2023 

As the Endangered Species Act turns 50, those who first enforced it reflect on its mixed legacy, AP, December 27, 2023

Endangered Species Act turns 50, saves hundreds of species, Axios, December 28, 2023

The Endangered Species Act Has Been a Success for 50 Years. Its Work Is Just Beginning, Time, December 28, 2023

Recent Editorials:

Editorial: Improving the Endangered Species Act, Capital Press, January 4, 2024

How to Make the Endangered Species Act Last the Next 50 Years, Sierra Club, December 12, 2023

On the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, a threat looms, The Guardian, December 5, 2023

Lesson Plans:

From Endangered to Extinct: 21 Species Disappear From US Endangered List, Subject to Climate

Bell Ringer: Endangered Species Day and Related Legislation, C-SPAN Classroom

Endangered Species Curriculum,

Endangered Species Science Lessons, Endangered Species Coalition

Resources for Younger Students:

Exploring Endangered Species | PLUM LANDING™, PBS Learning Media

Once Critically Endangered, Osprey Numbers Soar in Connecticut, Subject to Climate

Save Our Species, Endangered Species Coloring Book, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


Published January 2024