Examining the Endangered Species Act Forty Years Later

When President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law in the latter part of 1973, it was widely embraced. The legislation’s impacts in the fifty years that have passed have been both complex and successful. The majority of Americans applauded the bill for saving species like bison and bald eagles. However, many questioned if the regulation was too strict when it impeded economic advancement. The act went into force concurrently with other legislation aimed at preserving the environment, including the air, water, and wilderness. No other nation in the world had such extensive protections in place during the 1960s and 1970s.Later, worries surfaced when the law stopped projects like the construction of a hydroelectric dam in Tennessee. The issue? A little river fish that was unknown to most people.


The snail darter is the name of that fish. For over two years, plans to safeguard the fish impeded work on the Tellico Dam. Eventually, biologists made the decision to capture the tiny fish and relocate it to other rivers. With time, the number of fish increased, and in 1984 the snail darters were taken off the endangered species list. The fish had recovered completely about a year ago. The first “fish guy” in the Office of Endangered Species was Jim Williams. He remembers that many individuals were offended by the choice when his group listed the fish.


He claims he was instructed not to list the fish by his director. Williams, however, declared that he would abide by the law and base his decisions on the evidence rather than potential public opinion. The U.S. government realized how hard it would be to administer the law after the snail darter ruling. According to some, the government shouldn’t attempt to preserve every species. Some others claimed that no plant or animal should go extinct. The discussion is still going on today. In the ensuing forty-five years, many more debates over the preservation of species arose. Each time, Endangered Species Office personnel took a stand that outraged some but ultimately resulted in the creatures’ survival.

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