Taking Stock of the Endangered Species Act at Age 30

Who knew the Endangered Species Act was a Sagittarius? That’s right, this month the act will turn 30. Signed into law by President Nixon in 1973, the ESA aimed to prevent extinctions, bring imperiled species back to viable population levels, and protect the natural habitat needed to sustain wildlife. Five years later, the law gained some teeth when the Supreme Court halted work on a federal dam in Tennessee that would have harmed a now-famous fish, the snail darter. In its ruling, the court determined that Congress meant for the ESA to protect species “whatever the cost.” Now, though, the act is coming under fire from the Bush administration, which has characterized it as “broken.” How well has the act served its purposes? How will it fare in the future? On the 30th anniversary of the law, The Oregonian looks at the prospects of both the ESA and the growing list of endangered species nationwide.