Protecting the Endangered Species Act
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is one of America’s most effective and important environmental laws (Success Stories). It represents a commitment by the American people to work together to protect and restore those species most at risk of disappearing forever. Recent polling shows 84 percent of Americans support the endangered species act and 87 percent agree it is a successful safety net for protecting wildlife, plants, and fish from extinction.
In 1973, Congress showed global leadership by creating the Endangered Species Act. The Act has been successful. No law has been more important in preventing the extinction of wildlife, including bald eagles, gray whales and the peregrine falcon. And many species protected under the law are on the pathway to recovery.
The Endangered Species Act provides commonsense, balanced solutions for government agencies, landowners, and concerned citizens to conserve endangered wildlife and their habitats. The Act includes three key elements:
• Prevents listed species from being killed or harmed
• Protects habitat essential to these species’ survival
• Creates plans to restore healthy populations
In addition, the Act provides numerous conservation resources to help states, tribes, and private landowners. Since its enactment, the Endangered Species Act has afforded protections to more than 1,400 species in the United States, and many are on the pathway to recovery. Just as important, millions of acres of forests, beaches, and wetlands—those species’ essential habitats—have been protected from degradation.
The Endangered Species Act is designed to protect not only large, charismatic wildlife such as grizzly bears and bald eagles, but also species that are more obscure, yet equally unique and critical to the web of life. The Act protects the ecosystems upon which imperiled wildlife and many other species depend, including humans.
Specific Detail About ESA:
For a species to gain protection under the ESA, it first must be listed by regulation as either “threatened” or “endangered,” the most vulnerable category. A proposal to list a species can arise from a petition submit- led by the public or state agencies.
When FWS/NMFS lists a species, it generally must also designate “critical habitat,” specific areas with the physical and biological features essential for the species’ conservation that need special management considerations or protection.
In addition to critical habitat designation, listing typically also requires the development of a plan that spells out the research and management actions necessary for recovery.
Each federal agency is required to conserve listed species and to ensure that its actions are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of these species or adversely modify or destroy their critical habitat. If a federal agency proposes to authorize, fund or carry out an action that “may affect” a listed species or its critical habitat, it must consult with FWS/NMFS. (Activities on private land with no federal involvement do not require consultation.) After consultation, the Service issues a “biological opinion” stating whether or not the proposed action is likely to result in jeopardy or adverse modification. If the Service finds either impact likely to occur, it may propose modifications to the action to avoid violating the ESA.
Congress imposed strict statutory prohibitions on the “take” of endangered species, but granted the secretaries of interior and commerce discretionary authority to apply these prohibitions to threatened species. “Take” includes activities such as harassing, harming and killing. “Harm” for a listed species is further defined by regulation to include significant habitat modification.While
the ESA can shield listed species from significant harm, it does not directly mandate or compel private citizens to take positive conservation actions on behalf of these species. Private landowners can obtain a permit to “take” a listed species if that take is incidental to some other lawful activity, such as plowing a field or building a shopping mall.