On December 28, 1973, President Richard Nixon signed into law what would become the world's first legal declaration that non-human species had the right to exist - legislation known as the Endangered Species Act.
40 years later, it's still as important as ever.
By the middle part of the last century, some of the nation's most iconic species seemed doomed to be wiped out, largely due to unchecked hunting, habitat loss, and environmental pollutants. In signing the new legislation, Nixon boldly stated that conservation measures must be put in place to prevent the loss of biodiversity, no matter the cost or inconvenience to special interests.
"Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed," he announced.
Since being implemented, nearly 1,500 plants and animals have been listed as 'endangered' or 'threatened' under the ESA, prompting recovery plans and preservation strategies which have staved off extinction for all but ten species (seven of which are thought have been extinct prior to being listed).
In some cases, as with Bald Eagles, recovery under the ESA has been remarkable. After being decimated from the unregulated use of the pesticide DDT, reduced to just over 400 breeding pairs in the contiguous United States, our national animal rebounded to over 11,000 pairs by 2007 thanks to federal protections.
Under the ESA, grizzly bears and gray wolves too, once hunted to near extinction in lower 48 states, have seen impressive recoveries as well, prompting them to be delisted in some regions.
To date, 28 species have been removed from the list after having made a full recovery. And as the Endangered Species Act marks its 40th year, it continues to hold steadfast to the purity of its purpose as an advocate for the nation's other inhabitants, many of which are sadly still imperilled from new and ongoing threats.