Under the protection of the Endangered Species Act and countless conservation efforts, a tiny fish has been able to avoid extinction, proving the relevance of the American piece of legislation to protect imperiled species after decades of controversy around its usefulness.
The 1978 Supreme Court decision to protect endangered plants and animals “whatever the cost” has set a precedent studied in law schools across the country. “The first Supreme Court case showed that the Endangered Species Act meant business,” says Kristi Young, a deputy manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Division of Conservation and Classification.
Since 1973, it is illegal to harm endangered species and to eliminate their habitats. Put on the nation’s list of imperiled wildlife in 1975, the snail darter – whose name comes from the mollusks it preys upon – has officially been declared saved. Despite the illegality of eliminating an animal’s natural habitat – hence the controversy – the snail darter’s population has been relocated in the Hiwassee and Holston rivers when a dam was built on the Tennessee River where it used to live. Over the last 50 years, the Endangered Species Act has helped save the bald eagle, the American alligator, and the humpback whale.