It took millions of years for the spectacular variety of life to evolve on the North American landscape, influenced by everything from geography to soils to climate and the stewardship of Indigenous Peoples. This complex and interconnected web of life is dwindling fast, but there is still hope.
In the early 1970s, a growing number of people from all walks of life saw the threats to nature, they saw hope and they spoke up. Along with their awareness and activism came a wave of policy actions aimed at safeguarding air, water and the myriad of living things. The Environmental Protection Agency was created and began enforcing new standards for clean air and water. And the Endangered Species Act was signed into law.
Before the Endangered Species Act was signed into federal law in 1973, the path in the United States for identifying, protecting, and recovering imperiled plants and animals was a mess. Treaties and the myriad of other laws were ill-funded, poorly defined, and lacked teeth to effectively restore flora and fauna from the brink of extinction.
Since its passage, the Endangered Species Act has proven to be one important tool to direct resources and actions to help rare species recover. The act has played a role in the comebacks of such species as the bald eagle, green sea turtle, piping plover, American alligator and many others.
Tell Congress to Save America’s Wildlife
Support the Recovering America’s Wildlife ActUrge Congress to pass RAWA
The Endangered Species Act isn't perfect, and threats to biodiversity remain enormously challenging. Many actions are needed to deliver the right policies, funding, and science, along with solutions for the tandem crisis of climate change. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is one measure Congress can pass to help keep common species common and prevent others from becoming rare. Another path to safeguarding biodiversity is the Global Biodiversity Framework agreed upon at the December, 2022, UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal. And in the U.S., President Biden has stated his commitment to America the Beautiful, a national initiative to conserve and restore 30% of the country's lands and waters by 2030.
We know what success can look like. We know—from the Endangered Species Act and many other initiatives to restore habitat and wildlife—that species can make a comeback. Here are just a few.
Species of the U.S. West
Species of the U.S. Midwest
Species of the U.S. South
Species of the U.S. East
Questions About U.S. Conservation
Wildlife face many threats in the U.S. Many of these threats are the same facing wildlife in other parts of the world.
Here are some of the biggest threats facing biodiversity right now:
Climate change: Humans are feeling the impacts of climate change, and so is wildlife. Many species try to adapt by shifting their ranges: moving north and to higher elevation. But habitat fragmentation from human development makes movement more difficult. Some species can’t move because they’ve evolved within specific ecosystems, and they’re replaced with generalist species or driven to extinction. And some species, like ticks, are expanding their ranges and spreading diseases to new areas.
Climate change affects marine species as well as terrestrial species. Rising ocean temperatures threaten marine ecosystems like coral reefs, causing a loss of marine biodiversity and fisheries losses.
Habitat loss: There are many different types of habitat loss, each of which threaten wildlife. Some examples of habitat loss are deforestation, agriculture, mining and urbanization.
Habitat loss also includes degradation, such as from pollution, and fragmentation, such as roads through habitat or dams in streams.
Invasive species: Invasive species outcompete local and indigenous species for resources, causing declines in native biodiversity. Invasive species can also spread diseases that native species haven’t evolved to withstand and fuel devastating wildfires that destroy important wildlife habitat.
Pollution: Human activities cause a wide range of pollution in our environment, all of which threaten wildlife on land and in freshwater and marine ecosystems.
Here are just a few examples of pollution sources in the U.S.:
- Air pollution: We know that air pollution causes health problems in people, and it’s also damaging for wildlife. Burning fossil fuels is a main cause of air pollution in the U.S.
- Land pollution: Nitrogen pollution (often in the form of nutrient runoff from agriculture) has downstream effects on freshwater and marine wildlife, including dead zones and toxic algae. Pollution also comes in the form of plastic, industrial and household waste.
- Water pollution: Pollution often starts on land and ends up in water systems, harming freshwater and marine wildlife. Plastic and discarded fishing gear are two examples. Other pollution goes right into our waterways, such as waste from our modern sewage systems and stormwater pollution.
There are a variety of ways you can help wildlife near you and around the country! Here are just a few:
- Support conservation laws in your state and contact your elected officials
- Plant native plants: Turn your yard into a wildlife haven (and reduce your use of pesticides)
- Reduce your single-use plastic consumption: Plastic is a major pollutant of our oceans and risk to marine species
- Visit local preserves: Be sure to obey leash laws, stay on designated trails, and practice leave no trace
- Reduce the spread of invasive species: Clean your shoes and tires (and boats!) before and after traveling, buy local firewood, and ensure the plants you buy are not invasive
- Volunteer and attend events with The Nature Conservancy or other local conservation groups
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is a U.S. law that creates protections for fish, wildlife and plants that are endangered or threatened with extinction. The ESA created guidelines for adding species to the list, removing species from the list, creating recovery plans, and funding conservation efforts. Its goal is to prevent extinction for species and their habitats.
The Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973 after many iconic species suffered declines. Since then, it has played a role in the comebacks of many iconic species.
The Endangered Species Act isn’t perfect, and threats to biodiversity remain enormously challenging. Many actions are needed to deliver the right policies, funding, and science, along with solutions for the tandem crisis of climate change.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA) is a bipartisan bill that would help recover wildlife listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act or state law, as well as preventing species from becoming endangered. RAWA will invest $1.397 billion per year in financial and technical assistance to state and Tribal efforts to help wildlife and local communities.
More than a third of America’s fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction. States and Tribes have a long track record of success in helping recover species before they require the far more costly “emergency room” intervention of the Endangered Species Act. This conservation work also has multiple benefits for local communities, including job growth, cleaner water, and more outdoor recreation opportunities.
RAWA will fund on-the-ground conservation efforts of these species such as conserving and restoring habitats, fighting invasive species, reintroducing native species and tackling emerging diseases. Some of the funding will come from revenues from fees and fines for environmental requirement violations.
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