What is The Endangered Species Act?
Life on this planet would never be complete without members of the animal kingdom. They are critical parts of the ecosystem. The rapid pace of economic growth and development has led to the decline in the numbers of certain species. They are now on the brink of extinction. This is where the Endangered Species Act can play a role. This is a piece of legislation that aims to protect certain species from going extinct.
Wildlife Conservation Efforts in the US
Before the passing of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, there were several efforts of earlier US administrations to help curb the decline of certain animal species.
Everything started in the 1900s when George Bird Grinnell wrote about the disappearance of the wild or passenger pigeon. This migratory bird was endemic to North America. By the turn of the 20th century, there were no more passenger pigeons to be seen. In addition to this bird, the bison also reached dangerously-low levels in number. This was the first time that the American public became aware of a new concept – extinction.
Wildlife hunting remained unregulated in the US around this time. This compounded the loss of habitat of wild species of animals. The whooping crane is a good example. Before the 19th century, these birds were numerous from Mexico to central Canada and from the Atlantic Coast to Utah. By 1941, only 16 whooping cranes are left in the wild.
In 1900, the US government passed the Lacey Act. This law regulated the commercial market for animals and animal products. In 1929, the Migratory Bird Conservation Act was also passed. There is also the Bald Eagle Protection Act which was signed into law in 1940.
In 1965, the US Congress added a provision to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act. The provision allowed the government to purchase land and waters. These help preserve species of wildlife and fish that authorities consider to be under threat of extinction.
In 1966, the US Congress passed the Endangered Species Preservation Act (ESPA). It aimed to create a list of endangered animal species native to the US. It also aimed to provide limited protections for these animals. This allowed the US government to purchase habitats for these endangered species.
The very first list that the law published was in 1967. It listed 14 mammals, 22 fish, 36 birds, and 6 amphibians and reptiles as endangered. It also identified habitat destruction as the single most important threat to the survival of these species.
Congress amended the ESPA of 1966 and renamed it as the Endangered Species Conservation Act in 1969. The law provided additional protection for animal and plant species that are in danger of extinction on a global scale. It also prohibited the importation and sale of these species. The Act also expanded the interstate commerce ban established by the Lacey Act of 1900. It now included reptiles, mollusks, crustaceans, amphibians, and mammals. It also called for the creation of an international treaty or convention meant to conserve endangered species. This paved the way for the passing of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in 1973.
International Union for Conservation of Nature
The Endangered Species Act of 1973 is an offshoot to earlier efforts by world leaders to help curb the rapid deterioration of the ecosystem. One of these was the establishment of the International Union for Conservation of Nature in October 1948.
The IUCN does not work to mobilize the people to take action in conserving nature. It influences the actions of national governments, private organizations, businesses, industries, and other stakeholders. The organization provides critical information and advice. It also fosters the building of strong partnerships.
Recognizing that man should be the one taking care of his environment, the IUCN encourages the equitable use of natural resources. It promotes human activities that are not detrimental to the environment.
The organization is best known for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, which IUCN published in 1964. This publication compiles and assesses the status of the conservation of biological species around the world.
In the 2007 Red Data List, the Cross River Gorilla and the Western Lowland Gorilla got elevated in their classification. From being endangered, these gorillas were considered critically-endangered. Poaching and the spread of the Ebola virus were the most common culprits. Also included in the 2007 list of critically-endangered species was the Sumatran Orangutan.
The 2008 edition of the Red Data List revealed that more than 20% of the 5,587 mammals on the planet are already threatened by extinction. In 2012, the organization revealed that 31 percent of the 63,837 species it listed face the threat of extinction. The IUCN declared 5,766 species to be endangered and 3,947 species as critically-endangered. This is in addition to at least 10,000 species that the organization listed as ‘vulnerable”.
The IUCN has been instrumental in the establishment of the World Conservation Monitoring Center. It also worked with leaders in the drafting of a multilateral treaty in 1963. This laid the foundation for the Washington Convention. It is also known as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
The IUCN Red Data List underscored human activities as one of the major culprits in the decline in numbers of certain species. Poaching remains one of the problems that eco-crusaders face. The international trade of animal products like fur and skin is also to blame.
Members of the organization met in 1963. They drafted a resolution calling for more efforts to regulate the trading of products made from wild plants and animals. This resulted in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, better known as CITES.
With the passage of the Endangered Species Conservation Act in 1969, the US government called for a meeting with other government leaders. They finalized the CITES draft resolution in 1973. The treaty came into force on the first day of July 1975.
The aim of CITES is to make sure that the international trade in wild animal and plant species does not threaten these species’ survival in the wild. More than 35,000 species of plants and animals are covered in the treaty with varying levels of protection. Examples of animal products that the treaty aims to regulate are furs, sharks’ fins, elephant tusks, and rhinoceros horns.
Being a party to CITES is voluntary. Signatories are not compelled to institute reforms or enact laws. One has to recognize that the CITES is not a law. It is a framework upon which parties to the treaty can respect. They use the framework to draft and pass legal measures in their respective jurisdictions.
The CITES treaty expects national governments to formulate specific laws that prohibit the trading of endangered species. The treaty also requires its parties to impose penalties to those who engage in the trading of endangered species. It also expects governments to provide laws that will give guidelines on the confiscation of traded specimens. Moreover, CITES desires national governments to designate authorities for the management of the CITES framework in their respective countries.
One of the national governments that are active in enacting the CITES framework is the United States. This laid the groundwork for the creation and enactment of the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
The Endangered Species Act
The 93rd US Congress passed the Endangered Species Act in 1973. President Richard Nixon signed the act into law in December 23 of the same year. It requires all federal agencies to seek consultation with the NOAA Fisheries Service and/or the US Fish and Wildlife Service. This is to help make sure that all federal agency activities will not jeopardize the existence of species listed as endangered.
The US FWS and the Federal Register use the following abbreviations in the listing of species.
- E – endangered; it includes any specie that is in danger of going extinct
- T – threatened; any specie that is at a high risk of becoming endangered
- E (S/A) – endangered because of similarity of appearance; the specie is not endangered. However, because it bears a close resemblance to an endangered species, it may also be under threat of extinction
- T (S/A) – threatened because of similarity of appearance; the specie is not threatened. However, its existence can be under threat because of its similarity to a threatened species.
- XE – experimental and essential populations of species
- XN – experimental and non-essential populations of species
- C – a species being considered for official listing
Since its enactment, the ESA was able to save 99 percent of its listed species from extinction. These included the humpback whales, bald eagles, and grizzly bears, among others.
The Endangered Species Act underscores the US Government’s efforts to help conserve fish and wildlife. It prohibits the killing or harming of endangered species. It also bans their importation and exportation. It also requires the adequate protection for the lands and bodies of water upon which these endangered species thrive. And, it lays the foundation for the creation and implementation of recovery plans.