The Legacy

1980 – Present

The effects of humans on the natural environment—both positive and negative—have never been stronger. While we’ve witnessed additional disasters, like the nuclear contamination from Chernobyl in 1986, and the Exxon Valdez spill three years later, we’ve also seen the payoff from earlier conservation efforts as wild turkeys, wolves, and bald eagles have begun repopulating.

Polar Bear1980:

ALASKA LAND PROTECTIONS: Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act protects 104 million acres, including 40 million acres of new refuge land and 56 million acres in the National Wilderness Preservation System.  Learn more.

FISH AND WILDLIFE CONSERVATION ACT: Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act provides federal responsibility to conserve certain non-game species.  Learn more.

SUPERFUND: “Superfund” is established.  Learn more.


BHOPAL GAS LEAK: A gas leak at a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India killed over 7,000 people.  Learn more.


CHERNOBYL: The Chernobyl nuclear disaster pollutes large areas of northern Europe.  Learn more.


MONTREAL PROTOCOL: The United States joins other industrialized nations in signing the Montreal Protocol, designated to protect the ultraviolet-shielding ozone layer.  Learn more.

5 BILLION HUMANS: The world human population reaches five billion.  Learn more.


EXXON VALDEZ SPILL: The largest oil spill in U.S. history occurs at Prince William Sound, Alaska, arousing national indignation.  Learn more.


WILD TURKEYS RESTORED: Wild turkeys are restored to 43 states, with a population nearing 2 million.  Learn more.


BALD EAGLES REPOPULATED: A reduction in killing and indiscriminate use of pesticides allows conservation status of the Bald Eagle to improve. It is now proposed for transfer from the Endangered to Threatened Species List in parts of the United States.   Learn more.

500TH NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE: The 500th National Wildlife Refuge is established at Canaan Valley, West Virginia. Learn more.


YELLOWSTONE WOLF REINTRODUCTION: Wolves from Canada are reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park.  Learn more.


NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE SYSTEM IMPROVEMENT ACT:  “Organic” legislation is enacted for the NWRS.  Learn more.


FIRST MARINE NATIONAL MONUMENT: Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, the first marine national monument, is established.  Learn more.


BALD EAGLES DELISTED: The Bald Eagle is removed from the Endangered Species List.  Learn more.


POLAR BEAR THREATENED: Polar bear was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, the first species to be listed primarily due to global climate change.  Learn more.


DEEPWATER HORIZON:   The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explodes in the Gulf of Mexico, triggering the largest oil spill in American history. Learn more.


PARIS AGREEMENT:   The Paris Agreement is adopted by members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  Learn more.