US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in The Endangered Species Act at Thirty, Volume 2: Conserving Biodiversity in Human-Dominated Landscapes, edited by J. Michael Scott, Dale D. Goble, & Frank W. Davis (Washington: Island Press, 2006), pp. 24-35.


The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is embedded in a web of statutes designed to regulate relationships between humans and other species that stretch back nearly a millennium (Goble, this volume; Goble and Freyfogle 2002). This chapter presents a time line of federal actions taken to protect wildlife beginning with passage of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act in 1963 (Act of May 28, 1963). Earlier laws to protect wildlife are discussed elsewhere (Goble, this volume). The time line emphasizes federal actions that conserve species at risk of extinction and significant events in the course of implementing the Endangered Species Act.

The story is one of expanding protection, moving from the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act's recognition of species threatened with extinction, through the protection of migratory birds, to the first federal statutes to protect endangered species-the Endangered Species Preservation Act (Act of October 15, 1966a), the Endangered Species Conservation Act (Act of December 5, 1969), and the Endangered Species Act itself in 1973. In this progression, federallaw has moved from protection of only fish and game to include nearly all at-risk plants and animals.

The enactment of the ESA in 1973 was not the end of the story, however. The act has been amended several times over the past thirty years and administrative actions have also modified its on-the-ground application. The original ESA embodied a top-down regulatory approach but the subsequent amendments have increased incentives that would encourage private landowners, government agencies, and other organizations to collaborate in recovery efforts for endangered species.