Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Endangered Species Act– the “Readers Digest” version

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Every week, greenmomster includes an “endangered species of the week.”  But what exactly do we mean by “endangered species”?  Usually when we refer to an “endangered species,” we’re referring to a species that has been listed as “threatened” or “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a law passed in 1973 when Richard Nixon was president.   The goal of the ESA is to “protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend.” (USFWS 2013).  The law has been very successful over the past 40 years, with under 1% of the 2054 internationally listed species (1,436 are found in the U.S.) going extinct during that time (Defenders of Wildlife n.d., USFWS 1/2013).   The law is administered by both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) (they usually handle terrestrial and freshwater organisms) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) (they usually handle the marine species).  Here are a few facts about how the law works:

  1. If a species is listed as “endangered,” it’s in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.  If a species is listed as “threatened,” it’s likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.
  2. Species are listed only based on biological status and threats to their existence.  USFWS and NMFS consider 5 factors when deciding whether to list a species:
    • is the species’ habitat threatened with damage or destruction?
    • is the species being overused for educational, recreational, commercial, or scientific purposes?
    • is the species threatened by disease or predation?
    • is the existing protection inadequate?
    • are there other natural or man-made factors that threaten the existence of the species? (USFWS, 1/2013)
  3. If the agencies determine that, based on the above questions, the species should be listed as threatened or endangered, the species is then protected from any kind of “taking.”  A “taking,” according to the ESA is harassing, harming (including killing or injuring), pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding, killing, trapping, capturing, or collecting a listed species or attempting to engage in any such conduct (USFWS 1/2013) .
  4. The ESA includes special requirements such as writing a recovery plan, specific requirements for Federal agencies, as well as programs that encourage private landowners to protect endangered species.

But here’s the most important fact about the Endangered Species Act – IT’S A SUCCESS!  Not only have only 1% of listed species gone extinct, but according to the Center for Biological Diversity (in their report, “On Time, On Target: How the Endangered Species Act Is Saving America’s Wildlife”), 90% of species are recovering at the rate set out in their Federal recovery plan.  Not too shabby!  But there’s more work to be done – many species still need Federal protection.  In previous posts, we discussed misconceptions about endangered species, the 100 most endangered species in the world, and a few endangered species success stories, such as the bald eagle and the piping plover.   If you’d like to learn more about how the Endangered Species Act is administered, be sure to check out the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Fact Sheet.


Center for Biological Diversity.  n.d.  “110 Success Stories for Endangered Species Day 2012”  Accessed 3/21/2013.  http://www.esasuccess.org/index.html

Defenders of Wildlife. n.d.  “Endangered Species Act”  Accessed 3/21/2013.  http://www.defenders.org/endangered-species-act/endangered-species-act-101

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  2013.  “ESA Basics.  40 Years of Conserving Endangered Species.”  January 2013.  Accessed online 2/21/2013.  http://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/ESA_basics.pdf

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  2013.  “Endangered Species Program.”  Last updated 2/11/2013.  Accessed 3/21/2013.  http://www.fws.gov/endangered/laws-policies/index.html

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