Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
The Endangered Species Act, a federal law enacted on December 28, 1973, and significantly amended (changed) in 1978, is one of the most far-reaching wildlife conservation laws ever enacted by any country.
Under this Act, species may be classified as endangered or threatened. An endangered species is one that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant part of its range. A threatened species is one that is likely to become endangered in the near future in all or a significant part of its range.
The Endangered Species Act states that endangered and threatened species are of aesthetic, ecological, historical, recreational and scientific value to the nation and its people. The Act is administered by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its Office of Endangered Species. Marine species are managed with the cooperation of the National Marine Fisheries Service. The Endangered Species Act and its amendments protect all species (plants and animals) that are threatened by one or more of the following conditions:
The Act makes it unlawful for any person to import, export, sell, ship in interstate or foreign commerce, harass, harm or capture any threatened or endangered plants or wildlife within the United States, its territorial seas or on the high seas. These restrictions apply to both live and dead animals or plants as well as any parts or products made from parts, although special permits may be granted for scientific or special rearing purposes. Other provisions of the Act include land acquisitions for endangered and threatened species recovery and financial assistance to states and foreign countries to accomplish recovery goals.
The singular purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to protect a vulnerable species from further harm and to restore it to a self-sustaining population. These goals are accomplished by listing a species as endangered or threatened, designating critical habitat, if necessary, developing a recovery plan and carrying out recovery actions to eventually delist a species because of its restoration.
The listing of a species and its critical habitat is a lengthy legal process known as the "rulemaking procedure". This is undertaken by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and involves the public, the scientific community, the states, other federal agencies and sometimes foreign governments. Anyone may petition the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to have a species placed on the list of "Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants".
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identifies species as candidates for possible listing based on available knowledge of the species' biological status and any existing or potential threats. An initial notice of review asking for more information on the species from any source is published in the Federal Register, a daily federal government publication.
If information is sufficient to warrant listing of the species, the proposed rulemaking for listing is again published in the Federal Register. In addition, news releases and special mailings of a notice inform interested parties, scientists and other federal and state agencies. The public is given at least 60 days to comment at every stage of the listing process. Governors of states where the species lives or is suspected to occur are given 90 days to comment. There may also be a public hearing within 45 days of the notice in the Federal Register.
After all the comments and the best biological information are reviewed and evaluated, the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service makes a decision or a rule. The final rule (decision to list a species) takes effect 30 days after the final determination is published, again in the Federal Register. The entire listing process, from the initial notice of review to final rulemaking, is often lengthy and complicated. To prevent substantial declines or extinctions of candidates pending listing, the U.S. Congress has directed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to closely monitor species rarity and, if necessary, to carry out emergency listing.
Critical habitat includes the areas of land, water and air required by an endangered or threatened species for normal needs and survival. Other components of critical habitat include: space for individual and population growth and normal behavior; nutritional or physiological requirements including food, water, air, light, cover or shelter; breeding and rearing sites or germination and seed dispersal areas and habitats representing historical, geographical or ecological distributions of the species.
Critical habitat designations affect only federally- authorized activities. Private activities on non-federal lands are not restricted by the Endangered Species Act unless direct harm to the listed species would occur. Although private or state lands may be designated as critical habitat, this does not close the area to human activity. Critical habitat may not be designated if authorities on a particular species suspect that revealing the exact location of a species will make it vulnerable to disturbance or collection.
Designation of critical habitat may occur along with the listing process. After a species and its critical habitat are listed, the status of a listed species is reviewed every five years to confirm that federal protection is still needed. The Endangered Species Act was established as a tool to help save and restore species and was not intended as a weapon to hinder economic or social progress.
Each endangered species has its own "recovery team", composed of three to seven individuals, all of whom are wildlife professionals from agencies and organizations with expertise and responsibility for endangered species. The recovery team members operate independently of their respective agencies or organizations. Although removal of the species from the endangered or threatened list is the ultimate goal, a team's first efforts may be to delay or prevent the imminent extinction of a species. The recovery team develops a recovery plan outlining all known factors important to the biology of the species and the means to achieve population and management goals for the species. Future research and funding priorities for a listed species are also described in a recovery plan.