The 50th birthday of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a landmark science-based measure signed into law by President Richard Nixon, reminds us of the value of other environmental protections. The ESA was the last, not the first, environmental measure President Nixon signed into law. In his short time in office, Nixon endorsed a raft of environmental laws:

  1. National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 to establish legislative framework for protecting the environment.
  2. Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 to write and enforce rules to protect the environment.
  3. Clean Air Act Extension of 1970 to require the EPA to create and enforce regulations to protect people from airborne pollution.
  4. Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 to reduce marine mammal casualties, provide guidelines for display of marine mammals, regulate import and export of marine mammals, and allow permission for Native Alaskans to hunt certain marine mammals.
  5. Safe Drinking Water of 1974 (proposed by President Nixon in 1973, signed by President Ford).
  6. Endangered Species Act of 1973 to protect species in danger of extinction and strengthen existing conservation laws. (

President Nixon launched a new decade by delivering a State of the Union address in 1971 that gave “unprecedented attention to the environment, calling for a policy of balanced national growth, more parkland, and regulations to control air and water pollution” (

All politics are local, and it’s no surprise the Oregon Dept. of Environmental Quality regularly levels fines on businesses that fail to meet a variety of state requirements, such as those on stormwater discharge, oil spill clean-up, and untreated sewage.

The Endangered Species Act chronicles success in recovery of many species and preservation of others. Perhaps if federal lawmakers and the president had been convinced humans were an endangered species in 1970 or 80 or 90, or even 2000, we might be in flight today with the California condor and the American bald eagle, or on the trail of the Mountain West grizzly bear.

The ESA, EPA, CAA, and more agencies currently face threats and will address more in the future. It will be important to keep our eyes on the prize.

By Brenda Johnson Kame’enui