Preserving Life: The Endangered Species Act’s Journey and Future

By Brady Kim

Since its inception in 1973, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has been a cornerstone of environmental legislation in the United States. It reaffirmed the nation’s commitment to preserving biodiversity and protecting endangered species. The ESA has and continues to have significant successes in facilitating the recovery of many endangered species. In fact, over 90% of the plants and wildlife the law covers are recovering on schedule.[1] In recent years however, the act has been caught in the middle of partisan crosshairs.[2] In 2019, the Trump administration significantly weakened the act and despite revisions from the Biden administration in 2024 many conservationists don’t believe the changes are enough.[3] Endangered Species Act proponents must tap into humanity’s affection for animals and underscore its crucial role in maintaining environmental balance to garner broader public support, increased funding, and bipartisan backing to bolster the ESA’s effectiveness.

The ESA’s legacy of success is evident in the remarkable recoveries of species once on the brink of extinction. The most iconic example is the bald eagle, whose population rebounded from just a few hundred pairs in the lower 48 states in the 1960s to over 10,000 pairs today, thanks in large part to actions taken by the ESA.[4] Similarly, the American alligator, once on the verge of extinction due to habitat loss and overhunting, has made a remarkable recovery and is now thriving in its native habitats across the southeastern United States.[5]

The species listed above are among over 2,300 species the ESA currently protects. When a species becomes threatened or endangered, the ESA is able to step in and prohibit importing, exporting and selling of the species.[6] The ESA also prohibits destruction of natural habitats which is part of the contentiousness of the act, but also essential. Ecosystems are completely interconnected and the health of one species affects the entirety. The ESA’s protection of these at-risk species has far-reaching implications.

Looking ahead, the ESA faces a new set of challenges that threaten to undermine its effectiveness in conserving biodiversity. Chief among these challenges is our lack of funding and continual weakening of the act. Today, the ESA is only funded at 40 percent of what it needs to protect all endangered or threatened species.[7] Specifically, this limits the capacity of agencies to effectively monitor species populations, protect critical habitats, and mitigate threats. With regards to the weakening of the act, in 2019 the Trump administration removed blanket protections for plants and animals right when they are classified as threatened.[8] The administration also notably allowed economic considerations when giving protections.[9] More recently, the Biden administration reversed these, however conservationists are worried that a Trump 2024 election will revert the changes.

These two challenges to the effectiveness of the ESA are exacerbated by the existential threat of climate change which is exacerbating habitat loss, altering ecosystems, and increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events. In Washington State where I am from, rising sea levels from climate change is heavily impacting Chinook Salmon populations. A lack of freshwater streams due to less glaciers inhibits the salmon from migrating from freshwater to the ocean. This essential cycle of life for salmons is detrimental to their population.[10] The increasing complexity of conserving at-risk species.

To adapt to these issues, ESA proponents need to focus on recreating the act as a staple of bipartisan support to protect our environment and species that are essential. The first way this can be done is by strategically leveraging iconic species like the grizzly bear and the bald eagle, which hold significant cultural and symbolic value in America, to garner bipartisan support. By convincing the public that the EPA is necessary for the survival of countless species such as the bald eagle more people will be inclined to show active rather than passive support. EPA proponents can also emphasize the economic benefits associated with protecting these iconic species, such as increased tourism revenue from wildlife viewing and ecotourism, can appeal to fiscal conservatives.[11]

The second way this can be done is through communicating the importance of saving critical species by emphasizing their indispensable role in maintaining healthy ecosystems, which contribute to people’s well-being. Advocates can show how the loss of even one species can trigger cascading effects, destabilizing entire ecosystems, and jeopardizing vital ecosystem services upon which humans rely. For instance, bees and other pollinators play a crucial role in the reproduction of many plants, including those that provide us with food. It is estimated that three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and about 35 percent of the world’s food crops depend on animal pollinators to reproduce.[12] The EPA plays a critical role in preserving the species that hold importance to human health and sustenance.

The Endangered Species Act has been a critical tool in preserving biodiversity and preventing extinctions, but its effectiveness is increasingly challenged by lack of funding and support. To ensure the Act’s continued relevance and success, we must gain bipartisan support from lawmakers and citizens alike. By taking proactive measures to address these challenges, we can chart a sustainable path forward for the ESA and protect endangered species for years to come.



[1] “Celebrating 50 Years of Endangered Species Act Success.” Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Biological Diversity, 3 Feb. 2023,

[2] “Species under Siege: Why the Endangered Species Act Is in Congressional Crosshairs.” Defenders of Wildlife, Accessed 11 Apr. 2024.

[3] Press, The Associated. “Biden Administration Restores Threatened Species Protections Dropped by Trump.” NPR, NPR, 28 Mar. 2024,

[4] “Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus Leucocephalus): U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.” FWS.Gov, Accessed 11 Apr. 2024.

[5] “Conservation Comeback: The American Alligator.” Wild Hope, 10 Jan. 2024,,in%20the%20southeastern%20United%20States

[6] F., Cynthia, and Hodges. “Full Title Name:  Brief Summary of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).” Animal Law Legal Center, 1 Jan. 1970,,destruction%20of%20their%20critical%20habitat.

[7] Rice, Bonnie. “Celebrating the Endangered Species Act on Capitol Hill.” Sierra Club,,amendments%20in%20major%20congressional%20bills. Accessed 11 Apr. 2024.

[8] Brown, Matthew. “Biden Administration Restores Threatened Species Protections Dropped by Trump.” AP News, AP News, 28 Mar. 2024,

[9] Lambert, Jonathan. “Trump Administration Weakens Endangered Species Act.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 12 Aug. 2019,’s%20administration%20is,whether%20to%20protect%20a%20species.

[10] Mapes, Lynda V., et al. “Endangered Species Act Turns 50: What 6 NW Animals Can Tell Us.” The Seattle Times, The Seattle Times Company, 4 Jan. 2024,

[11] Worland, Justin. “Endangered Species Act Has Economic Benefits – and Costs.” Time, Time, 25 July 2018,

[12] “The Importance of Pollinators.” USDA, Accessed 11 Apr. 2024.

2 thoughts on “Preserving Life: The Endangered Species Act’s Journey and Future

  1. The Endangered Species Act is the cornerstone for protecting endangered animals and habitats in the United States. As Brady states in his blog, the ESA is often changed by the current presidential administration in office. As we approach the next election it is important to remember the power that comes with electing a president or any official to office. In my own research, I uncovered a few ways that I can personally promote the preservation of the ESA. One example would be to learn more about the ESA and specific species in my local area and how I can help them recover. It is also important to voice support for the ESA in local and state governments. Templates can be found online for emails addressed to members of Congress, urging them to preserve the ESA. Influence can be used locally too, by writing letters to local newspapers discussing the importance of the ESA or by attending local meetings for city organizations or governments to voice the importance of preserving endangered species. As always, awareness of political candidates’ positions on the ESA is crucial when voting. Through conscious efforts, we can all show support for the ESA and the protection of endangered and threatened species.

  2. Hey! I like how your discussion emphasizes a multi-faceted approach to garner bipartisan support and public backing for the ESA. Many of these animals hold cultural significance and can inspire national pride and can be used to broaden public interest in biodiversity conservation. Furthermore, I do believe the economic benefits of protecting endangered species—such as increased tourism revenue and ecotourism. Emphasizing the interconnectedness of ecosystems can highlight the broader consequences of losing even a single species in the food chain that can destabilize entire ecosystems and even our way of life. I hope ESA proponents can foster support that transcends political divides, ensuring the preservation America’s natural heritage and beautiful environments.

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