Celebrating 50 Years of the ESA

The Endangered Species Act was signed into law in December 1973 to prevent the extinction of wildlife both at home and abroad. Fifty years later, it remains one of the strongest and most effective conservation laws in the world. Yet today, as its importance becomes ever more apparent, attempts to hobble the ESA are on the rise in Congress.

In the 1960s, AWI was one of the few organizations campaigning for comprehensive protections for critically imperiled species. An initial victory came with passage of the 1966 Endangered Species Preservation Act, the first federal legislation of its kind. In 1969, AWI’s founder, Christine Stevens, testified before a House subcommittee in support of amendments that added protections for species outside the United States, among other provisions, and spoke of the cruelty and threat of the exotic pet trade. 

That 1966 law was a stepping stone on the path to passage of the ESA, which greatly expanded protections for at-risk species and habitat and set our nation on a bold new course. In the years since, AWI’s endangered species advocacy on Capitol Hill has often focused on strengthening ESA implementation and enforcement through more funding and personnel. Testifying before a House subcommittee in 1976, Christine stated, “We are living in the most dangerous era the world has yet seen for the extinction of species. … A first-class endangered species staff is a necessity in order to do the job that cries out to be done.” 

On the ESA’s golden anniversary, we dedicate this edition of the AWI Quarterly to celebrating this remarkable law. In our feature article on page 13 and in pieces throughout this issue, learn about the inner workings of the ESA, what AWI is doing to save endangered species, and how you can help defend the ESA and the many animals under its protection.