Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on December 28, 1973, recognizing that the natural heritage of the United States was of “esthetic, ecological, educational, recreational, and scientific value to our Nation and its people.” It was understood that, without protection, many of our nation’s living resources would become extinct.
The purpose of the ESA is to conserve threatened and endangered species and their ecosystems. There are more than 1,900 species listed under the ESA. A species is considered endangered if it is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of it s range. A species is considered threatened if it is likely to become endangered in the future. All species of plants and animals, except pest insects, are eligible for listing as endangered or threatened. For the purposes of the ESA, Congress defined species to include subspecies, varieties, and, for vertebrates, distinct population segments.
The Interior Department's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Commerce Department's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) share responsibility for implementing the ESA. The USFWS has primary responsibility for terrestrial and freshwater organisms, while the responsibilities of NMFS for 94 marine species, from whales to sea turtles and salmon to Johnson’s sea grass. This includes 28 salmon and steelhead stocks in California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.
Congress passed the Endangered Species Preservation Act in 1966, providing a means for listing native animal species as endangered and giving them limited protection. The Departments of Interior, Agriculture, and Defense were to seek to protect listed species, and, insofar as consistent with their primary purposes, preserve the habitats of such species. The Act also authorized the Service to acquire land as habitat for endangered species. In 1969, Congress amended the Act to provide additional protection to species in danger of “worldwide extinction” by prohibiting their importation and subsequent sale in the United States. This Act called for an international meeting to adopt a convention to conserve endangered species. One amendment to the Act changed its title to the Endangered Species Conservation Act.
A 1973 conference in Washington, D. C. led 80 nations to sign the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which monitors, and in some cases, restricts international commerce in plant and animal species believed to be harmed by trade.
Later that year, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act of 1973. It
- defined “endangered” and “threatened” [section 3];
- made plants and all invertebrates eligible for protection [section 3];
- applied broad “take” prohibitions to all endangered animal species and allowed the prohibitions to apply to threatened animal species by special regulation [section 9];
- required Federal agencies to use their authorities to conserve listed species and consult on “may affect” actions [section 7];
- prohibited Federal agencies from authorizing, funding, or carrying out any action that would jeopardize a listed species or destroy or modify its “critical habitat” [section 7];
- made matching funds available to States with cooperative agreements [section 6];
- provided funding authority for land acquisition for foreign species [section 8]; and
- implemented CITES protection in the United States [section 8].
Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) under section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Act provide for partnerships with non-Federal parties to conserve the ecosystems upon which listed species depend, ultimately contributing to their recovery. HCPs are planning documents required as part of an application for an incidental take permit. They describe the anticipated effects of the proposed taking; how those impacts will be minimized, or mitigated; and how the HCP is to be funded. HCPs can apply to both listed and nonlisted species, including those that are candidates or have been proposed for listing.
Congress enacted significant amendments in 1978, 1982, and 1988, while keeping the overall framework of the 1973 Act essentially unchanged. The funding levels in the present Act were authorized through Fiscal Year 1992. Congress has annually appropriated funds since that time.
Learn more about listing or delisting species, critical habitat, habitat conservation plans and species recovery plans at these links:
(sources: USFWS and NMFS websites)