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Endangered Species Act

When you see an iconic bald eagle soaring over the waters of the James River, hear of endangered freshwater mussel species being propagated in captivity and then released into the Clinch River, or spot a red-cockaded woodpecker flitting among pines at Big Woods Wildlife Management Area, know that the sight might not have been possible if it weren’t for the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Throughout 2023, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) celebrated the 50th anniversary of the ESA, which was signed into law on December 28, 1973. Each month, we let you know a bit about a species in Virginia that our agency was able to impact in a positive way thanks in part to the ESA.


Red-Cockaded Woodpecker

The Red-Cockaded Woodpecker Returns

The tiny, scraggly young bird rested lightly in the wildlife biologist’s palm, oblivious to the excitement running through the group of people peering down at it. The nestling red-cockaded woodpecker, recently hatched in a cavity in a tree on Big Woods Wildlife Management Area (WMA), represented another big step in the recovery of the species in Virginia.


Atlantic Sturgeon

The Endangered Species Act Has Helped Bring the Atlantic Sturgeon Back to Virginia

Each spring on the James River, the impact of the Endangered Species Act can be seen as massive, prehistoric-looking fish arc out of the water and splash back into it in dramatic breaching displays. The Atlantic sturgeon, once thought to be gone from Virginia’s rivers, has returned after decades of dedicated work to restore water quality and habitat thanks to protections of the Clean Waters Act and the Endangered Species Act.

Ghosts No More

Read more details about how recovery efforts have helped the Atlantic sturgeon return to Virginia’s rivers. “Ghosts no more, theirs is a story of hope. We still have work to do—improving water quality, reducing soil erosion, learning to be smart about dredging, managing fisheries, and confronting climate change—but our sturgeon give us encouragement that we are headed in the right direction.”


Bog Turtles

Keeping Bog Turtles Off the Brink

J.D. Kleopfer, state herpetologist for the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR), calls bog turtles “little tanks on the landscape.” North America’s smallest turtle species, the bog turtle grows to only about four inches in shell length. And while they’re small, they’re not afraid to travel, hence the tank reference. DWR works with partners in efforts to maintain a network of ecologically viable bog turtle populations throughout the species’ range in Virginia and to avoid the need for federal listing within the Commonwealth.


Big Sandy Crayfish

Making a Difference for the Big Sandy Crayfish

Thanks in part to the Endangered Species Act, there’s work underway to help preserve and expand populations of the Big Sandy crayfish in Virginia. “With the current status, we’re in a really good spot to act immediately, so that we can potentially have some significant positive impacts on the species,” said Brian Watson, aquatic resources biologist and state malacologist for the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR).


Piping Plovers

Seeking to Understand the Piping Plover’s Precarious Recent Trends

The Atlantic Coast piping plover (Charadrius melodus) population was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA or Act) in 1986. Plovers were harvested for their feathers by the millinery trade in the 1800s and early 1900s, which depleted their numbers significantly. It was not until the Atlantic Coast piping plovers came under the protection of the ESA, did their numbers start to slowly improve again.


Birdwing Pearlymussel

Saving the Birdwing Pearlymussel to Keep Virginia’s Waters Clean

The team at DWR’s Aquatic Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) is working to restore the endangered birdwing pearlymussel in Virginia's rivers.


Bald Eagle

No Longer Endangered: The Bald Eagle is an Icon of the ESA

There’s no more iconic emblem of the impact of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) than the bald eagle. The national bird since 1782, this majestic species serves as a symbol not only of the country, but also of the success of endangered species protection.


Loggerhead Turtle

Long Live the Loggerhead: How the ESA has Helped this Marine Turtle

There are a number of protections that have been put in place for loggerhead turtles thanks to the Endangered Species Act.


Candy Darter

Is Recovery on the Horizon for the Candy Darter?

“This species’ range is small, but it does include two states. It’s a lot of coordination, but it’s the Endangered Species Act that is the glue that puts us all together in a united effort,” said Mike Pinder of the candy darter, a state- and federal-endangered fish species with remarkable coloring.

Dynamic, Dazzling Darters

Learn more about the most colorful fishes in Virginia’s waters in this Virginia Wildlife article by Mike Pinder, nongame fish biologist for the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR).



Protections Under the ESA Have Helped Virginia’s Bats Weather White-Nose Syndrome

While there's not much that Endangered Species Act protections can do for white-nose syndrome, ESA protections have helped Virginia's bats weather the crisis.


James Spinymussel

Years of Work Under the ESA Helped Bring the James Spinymussel Back to the James River

Decades of work facilitated by listing to the Endangered and Threatened Species List went into a release of James spinymussel into its historic range.


Roanoke Logperch

Long Live the King of the Darters, the Roanoke Logperch

With decades of stream restoration and fish passage projects, the Roanoke logperch looks as if it might be on its way to possibly be de-listed from the federal Endangered and Threatened Species List.