The Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973, managed by both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Commerce Department’s National. Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), was created to provide protection for species at risk of extinction and the habitat in which they thrive. Work on developing an endangered species bill began in 1972 following President Nixon’s remarks in his “Environmental Message” (93 S. Rpt. 307). Nixon deemed the species conservation efforts of the United States insufficient and during the 93rd Congress, the Endangered Species Act of 1973 was introduced and passed on December 28th, 1973.
The ESA provides for the creation of two lists – endangered and threatened – to authorize the protection of listed species. Threatened infers a species is on the path to becoming endangered in the “foreseeable future,” while endangered designates a species as at risk of becoming extinct throughout its entire range or a majority of its range. All species of animals and plants are eligible to be listed as threatened or endangered with the exception of pest insects (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2013b). The Act provides guidelines for the process of proposing and approving a species for listing or delisting. Species are listed through a proposal process whereby a concerned citizen, organization, or agency provide sufficient evidence to the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of the Commerce to initiate a review process and subsequent recovery plan. The Act walks a delicate line between state and federal oversight. A federal agency will only step in to develop a recovery plan when a state plan is inadequate or nonexistent. The Act also provides for periodic review by the Secretary.
Summary of Legislative History
As early as the beginning of the 20th century, it was clear that some species needed protection from human influence. The Lacey Act was introduced in 1900 to help slow the decline of the passenger pigeon, now extinct. The Lacey Act was the first legislation to ban the trade of illegally “taken” animals. In addition, it required the Secretary of Agriculture to restore, introduce, preserve, and distribute both game and wild birds.
Decades later, driven by political activists in the 1960s, the Committee on Rare and Endangered Wildlife Species was formed by the Department of the Interior in order to categorize species in danger of extinction. The committee published The Redbook on Rare and Endangered Fish and Wildlife of the United States in 1964, which provided the first federal documentation of species in immediate danger of extinction. Two years later, the predecessor to the ESA, The Endangered Species Preservation Act (ESPA), was passed in 1966. The ESPA is considered to be the first “comprehensive endangered species legislation” (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2013c).
The ESPA allowed limited protection of species and permitted species to be listed as endangered at the discretion of the Departments of the...