Data: US Fish and Wildlife Service/National Marine Fisheries Service.
 Illustration by Eleanor Taylor for Vox

Exactly five decades ago, Congress did what would be unimaginable today: It passed a powerful environmental law with almost unanimous support. In 1973, the House voted in favor of the Endangered Species Act, 390 to 12.

“Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed,” Republican President Richard Nixon said upon signing the act into law.

Among the most comprehensive environmental laws worldwide, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was set up to protect the nation’s many plants and animals that are at risk of extinction. It makes it a federal crime to harm species that it deems endangered, with some exceptions. The act also requires that government agencies, such as the Army or the Federal Aviation Administration, try to avoid jeopardizing endangered species or the habitat they need to survive.

Over the last five decades, the law has undoubtedly helped save dozens of creatures from extinction, from American alligators to […]

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