Celebrating Remarkable Wildlife Recoveries as the Endangered Species Act Turns 50

In the realm of wildlife conservation, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) stands as a monumental testament to the power of legislative action in safeguarding our natural heritage.

Signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1973, the ESA was a pioneering move by the United States to affirm a fundamental right of existence for species other than humans. This law’s purpose was crystal clear: prevent species from going extinct, regardless of the cost.

As we mark 50 years since its inception, it’s fitting to celebrate the remarkable success stories of species that have been pulled back from the brink of extinction thanks to this groundbreaking act.

The Gray Whale was the first marine mammal to be removed from the Endangered Species List.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Merrill Gosho
The Gray Whale was the first marine mammal to be removed from the Endangered Species List.

15. The Gray Whale: A Marine Success Story

One of the first marine mammals to be delisted from the Endangered Species List, the Gray Whale (Eschrichtius robustus) showcased an incredible recovery. According to National Geographic, following the ban on hunting these sea giants, their numbers have rebounded, and they continue to be protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Virginia Northern Flying Squirrels have rebounded in population due to targeted conservation efforts.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Matteo De Stefano/MUSE
Virginia Northern Flying Squirrels have rebounded in population due to targeted conservation efforts.

14. Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel: Soaring to Stability

The Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus fuscus) is another ESA success story. This unique mammal, once on the brink of extinction, has seen stable numbers thanks to targeted conservation efforts.

13. The Remarkable Return of the Lake Erie Water Snake

Another testament to the ESA’s effectiveness is the recovery of the Lake Erie Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon insularum). This species, once listed as endangered in 1999, has seen a remarkable turnaround. The Lake Erie Water Snake’s story is one of concerted conservation efforts leading to its delisting in 2011.

American Peregrine Falcons have recovered and continue to be protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith
American Peregrine Falcons have recovered and continue to be protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

12. The Resurgence of the American Peregrine Falcon

Two subspecies of the Peregrine Falcon, including the American Peregrine (Falco peregrinus anatum), have made a triumphant recovery. Despite being delisted, they remain protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, ensuring their continued survival.

11. The Revival of the Bald Eagle

Perhaps the most iconic of all, the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) has seen a dramatic comeback. From a mere 400 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states in 1963, their numbers have surged to as many as 10,000 pairs today.

Bald Eagle populations surged from 400 to 10,000 nesting pairs since 1963.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Andy Morffew
Bald Eagle populations surged from 400 to 10,000 nesting pairs since 1963.

10. The American Alligator’s Story of Resilience

The American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), once facing dire straits due to hunting and habitat loss, has bounced back robustly since its listing on the ESA. Its recovery highlights the effectiveness of habitat protection and conservation efforts.

9. The Aleutian Canada Goose Grows to Thousands

In the mid-1970s, the Aleutian Canada Goose (Branta canadensis leucopareia) numbered only in the hundreds. Today, their population has rebounded, marking a significant success in species recovery efforts.

The American Alligator made a robust recovery from near extinction in the 1950s.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Ianaré Sévi
The American Alligator made a robust recovery from near extinction in the 1950s.

8. Hoover’s Woolly-Star Makes A Comeback

Hoover’s Woolly-star (Eriastrum hooveri), a native Californian plant, saw its fortunes reverse following its growth on protected public lands. Its delisting is a testament to effective habitat conservation.

7. The Robbins’ Cinquefoil’s Journey From Extinction to Flourishing

Once teetering on the edge of extinction, the Robbins’ cinquefoil (Potentilla robbinsiana) found in New Hampshire’s White Mountains has recovered and was the first plant species to be delisted.

Robbins' Cinquefoil was the first plant species to be removed from the Endangered Species List.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / U.S.D.A. Forest Service, White Mountain National Forest
Robbins’ Cinquefoil was the first plant species to be removed from the Endangered Species List.

6. The Kirtland’s Warbler is a Conservation Symphony

A small, yellow-bellied songbird, the Kirtland’s Warbler, has exceeded recovery expectations. From a mere 170 breeding pairs to over 2,300, this bird’s resurgence is a conservation triumph.

5. The Grizzly Bear: A Symbol of Wilderness

From a low of 600 bears to over 2,100 today, the Grizzly Bear’s recovery in the United States is a testament to effective conservation and habitat protection efforts.

The Lake Erie Water Snake was delisted from the endangered species list in 2011.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / James St. John
The Lake Erie Water Snake was delisted from the endangered species list in 2011.

4. The Whooping Crane’s Tall Tale of Recovery

North America’s tallest bird, the Whooping Crane, has made steady progress since its listing as endangered. From just 21 individuals to over 500 today, its journey is a beacon of hope in species management.

3. The Black-footed Ferret is a Comeback Kid

The only ferret native to the Americas, the Black-footed Ferret’s revival from near extinction is an ongoing, yet inspiring story of resilience and dedicated conservation efforts.

Humpback Whale populations have recovered to an estimated 80,000 worldwide.

Photo: Pexels
Humpback Whale populations have recovered to an estimated 80,000 worldwide.

2. The Humpback Whale’s Tale of Worldwide Return

Decimated by commercial whaling, Humpback Whale populations have rebounded from about 10,000 to an estimated 80,000 worldwide, showcasing the impact of global conservation efforts.

1. The Florida Manatee: From Endangered to Threatened

Once at risk of extinction, the Florida Manatee’s numbers have risen from as little as 1,267 to over 6,300 in Florida, thanks to sustained conservation actions.

Florida Manatee numbers increased from 1,267 to over 6,300 in Florida.

Photo: Pexels
Florida Manatee numbers increased from 1,267 to over 6,300 in Florida.

Sustaining Momentum for the Future

These stories are more than just tales of survival; they are a clarion call for continued dedication to wildlife conservation. As we reflect on these successes, we recognize the vital role of the ESA in these achievements and the need for ongoing support and funding for conservation efforts. The future of these and many other species depends on our collective action to protect and preserve our planet’s incredible biodiversity.

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Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, spending time with his daughters, and coffee.
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