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These Animals Prove The Endangered Species Act Really Does Work

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An American alligator in the Everglades National Park. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images) | DEA / G. CAPPELLI via Getty Images

For over 40 years, the Endangered Species Act has been saving plants and animals from extinction.

Co-administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 1,400 domestic species of plants and animals and 600 foreign species are currently protected under this law -- and less than one percent of those species have ever been delisted because of extinction, according to Defenders of Wildlife.

Species can gain protection under the act via a classification of "endangered," meaning "a species is considered in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range," or "threatened," meaning "a species is considered likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future, but is not currently in danger of extinction," according to the USFWS. Protection under this law warrants advanced habitat protection, extensive monitoring and take-and-trade bans or restrictions.

The Endangered Species Act has always been a controversial topic, as some critics argue it's not fully successful and hinders economic development. This past week, 13 GOP lawmakers called for an overhaul of this act, suggesting states should have more say over animals within their borders, that there needs to be "more accurate economic impact studies" and other suggestions, according to AP. Experts, however, say the overhaul is unlikely.

Proponents argue that species resurgence takes time, and relies on multiple factors like the amount of time spent under the Endangered Species Act, critical habitat protection and recovery plans, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

Amid this controversy, here are nine examples that prove the Endangered Species Act can be successful.

  • Oregon Chub
    AP
    Endemic to the Willamette River Valley of western Oregon, this small minnow was listed as endangered in 1993 after its habitat declined from alteration, accidental chemical spills and other factors, according to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office. The USFWS reclassified the Oregon chub as threatened in 2010, and announced in early February 2014 that they proposed to delist the Oregon chub, according to The Wall Street Journal.

    When it was originally listed as endangered, only eight known populations existed; currently, there are 50 known populations, and 19 of those are either stable or increasing. The fish will have spent just 21 years on the Endangered Species List, and it is the first fish proposed for removal.

    (AP Photo/Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Rick Swart)
  • American Alligator
    AP
    American alligators declined so precipitously from habitat loss and hunting for leather since the 19th century that people thought it was going to go extinct. Its commercial and recreational hunting was banned in 1962 across the country, and it became protected under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966 that preceded the Endangered Species Act. After intensive monitoring, captive breeding and reintroduction, the southern reptile rebounded. It was reclassified as threatened in 1987 and remains under that protection due to "similarity of appearance" to crocodiles and caimans, which are still hunted, and to allow for a sustainable trade, according to the USFWS.

    "The story of the American alligator is one of both drastic decline and complete recovery," writes the USFWS. "A story of State and Federal cooperation, it is truly one of the prominent successes of the Nation’s endangered species program." American alligators are at the top of their food chain, so they are a crucial part of their wetland ecosystems.

    (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
  • Brown Pelicans
    Getty
    Two distinct populations of brown pelicans exist: The California brown pelican -- ranging from California to Chile -- and the eastern brown pelican -- ranging into the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, the Caribbean and the Central and South American coasts, according to the USFWS.

    Human disturbance, local food shortages and exposure to DDT and other chemicals led to both populations' decline, according to the USFWS. It was classified as endangered in 1970. But, because of habitat protection, the banning of DDT and pesticide restrictions, brown pelicans have rebounded. The USFWS estimates that 650,000 individuals exist worldwide.

    In 1985, brown pelicans in the eastern population in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and northward along the Atlantic Coast were removed from the Endangered Species List. The remaining population was delisted in 2009.

    (Photo by Jose CABEZAS/AFP/Getty Images)
  • Bald Eagle
    AP
    The United States' national emblem drastically declined in the 19th century and early 20th century from shooting, habitat loss and the use of DDT, according to the USFWS. By 1940, Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act, which prohibited killing, selling or possessing the species, and added the golden eagle to the Act in 1962, making it the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

    In 1967, bald eagles south of the 40th parallel became protected under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966. After the Endangered Species Act was enacted in 1973, the USFWS listed bald eagles as endangered in 1978 throughout the lower 48 states, except in Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin where the bird remained threatened. After years of captive breeding, reintroduction, law enforcement and nest site protection, the USFWS proposed removing the bald eagle from the list of threatened and endangered species in 1999. It was finally removed in 2007, and it is still protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

    (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
  • Gray Whale
    Flickr
    Commercial whaling heavily depleted both of the gray whale stocks -- the Eastern North Pacific population and the Western North Pacific population -- from the mid 19th century to early 20th century. In the mid 1930s, these monstrous cetaceans -- stretching up to 50 feet and weighing up to 40 tons -- became protected under the first international commercial whaling ban, and then later came under the protection of the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, according to NOAA.

    The Eastern North Pacific population was delisted from the Endangered Species Act in 1994, and is estimated to have 18,000 to 30,000 individuals, according to NOAA. On the other hand, the Western North Pacific stock remains gravely endangered and considered "depleted" under the MMPA. The population is estimated to be fewer than 100 individuals.

    A North Atlantic gray whale population once existed, but went extinct in the last 300 to 400 years. It's assumed that whaling and habitat degradation caused this species' extinction, though little is known about them, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

    (Photo by Sam Beebe/Flickr Creative Commons)
  • Gray Wolf
    AP
    Gray wolves have made an incredible comeback since they were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1974 in the Lower 48 and Mexico (except for Minnesota, where they were listed as threatened), according to the USFWS. Wolf hunting, eradication and poisoning led to their precipitous decline -- to the point where only a few hundred remained when they were listed as endangered under the ESA.

    Some distinct population segments are currently delisted due to recovery. In 2013, the Service proposed delisting remaining gray wolves, but continuing protection for the Mexican wolf -- the smallest and most southern-occuring subspecies of the gray wolf.

    In early February 2014, however, an independent review panel said the federal government was relying on "unsettled" and "insufficient science" to make its case to remove the gray wolf from the Endangered Species List, writes AP. Another public comment period will open in February.

    (AP Photo/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Gary Kramer, File)
  • Peregrine Falcons
    AP
    After decades of decline from DDT build-up and egg and chick retrieval, American and Arctic peregrine falcons declined sharply, according to the USFWS Chesapeake Bay Office. They were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969, and recovery teams composed of Federal, state and independent biologists worked to restore their populations.

    In 1984, the Service reclassified the Arctic peregrine falcon to threatened and was proposed for removal from the Endangered Species List ten years later. In 1999, the USFWS removed the American peregrine falcon from the Endangered Species List.

    The other subspecies, the Peale’s peregrine falcon, was never listed because they continued to breed at normal levels and only showed traces of DDT, according to the USFWS.

    (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
  • West Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel
    WikiMedia
    This subspecies, also known as the Virginia northern flying squirrel, was listed as endangered in 1985. Populations steeply declined after their habitat, old-growth spruce forests, were decimated from industrial logging between the 1880s and 1940s, according to the Service.

    The USFWS published a rule to remove this small nocturnal animal from the Endangered Species List in 2008, but because of a series of lawsuits and court orders, the squirrel remained protected. The USFWS submitted a final ruling to delist this flying squirrel in March of 2013.

    These flying squirrels live atop the central Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia and Virginia. At the time of their original listing nearly three decades ago, only 10 squirrels were captured throughout its range; today, more than 1,100 squirrels have been captured.

    (Photo by Master Larry, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/WikiMedia Commons)
  • Maguire Daisy
    Flickr
    Because of declines due to mineral exploration, development and off-road vehicle recreation, the plant was listed as endangered in 1985. It was reclassified in 1996, and delisted in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

    The Maguire daisy is a perennial herb that's a member of the sunflower family, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. It occurs in several Utah counties on crevices, ledges and in bottoms of washes at 5,200 to 8,600 feet in elevation.

    (Photo by USFWS Mountain-Prairie/Flickr Creative Commons)

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