Historical Highlights

The Endangered Species Act of 1973

December 28, 1973
The Endangered Species Act of 1973 Capitol Souvenir Postcard (detail), Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives This 1908 postcard features the federal eagle in front of the Capitol. The eagle was selected as a national symbol in 1782.
On this date, President Richard M. Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act of 1973 into law. Spurred by the success of the National Earth Day movement, Congress initiated legislation to preserve and protect various species of plants and animals facing extinction from land development and man-made environmental hazards. Introduced in January 1973, Congress spent 12 months negotiating a final bill derived from a stronger House version and a weaker Senate version. With a vote of 355 to 4, the nearly unanimous final passage in the House occurred on December 20, 1973. The law replaced the weaker 1969 Endangered Species Act, which lacked penalties for killing endangered species. The new law authorized the Secretary of the Interior to enforce laws to protect endangered species. One of the first animals placed on the endangered list was the American bald eagle—the national symbol selected by the Continental Congress in 1782. Due to the success of the Endangered Species Act protections, the eagle population recovered sufficiently enough for it to be removed from the list in June 2007.

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