Federal Wildlife Laws

Endangered Species

Federal Wildlife Laws

Endangered Species Act (ESA), 1973

  1. Governing agencies:
    • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)/U.S. Department of the Interior (USDI)
    • National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)/U.S. Department of Commerce (USDC)
  2. One of the most comprehensive wildlife statutes ever enacted is the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973. Expanding upon preceding endangered species laws, the ESA sought to stop the extinction of many species of wild animals and plants in the United States, other nations, and at sea. The goal of the ESA is to bring about the recovery of listed species so that they no longer need protection. The Secretaries of the Interior and Commerce administer the ESA. As a general rule, NMFS is responsible for marine species, while USFWS is responsible for freshwater and land-based species. However, sea turtles are the responsibility of the USFWS. The majority of species listed are under the authority of the USFWS.
  3. The ESA provides two levels of protection for listed species. Species considered to be in danger of extinction are listed as endangered, and are provided the most stringent protection. An endangered species is any species of animal or plant that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Species likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future are listed as threatened, and protected by somewhat less restrictive regulations. A candidate species is a species under review for listing. With limited exceptions, the Act prohibits the using, taking, possessing, selling, or advertising for sale or trade of listed species in the U.S. and abroad, unless authorized by permit.
  4. A species can be listed as threatened or endangered for one or more of the following reasons: current or threatened destruction, modification, or reduction of habitat or range; overuse for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; disease or predation; ineffective protection regulations, and other natural forces or human activities affecting chances for survival. Once a listing is confirmed, critical habitat must also be designated. Critical habitat is the geographic area that is essential to or requires special protection for the conservation of a species. For example, critical habitat for the endangered Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi) includes all beach areas (including sand spits and islets) to a depth of 20 fathoms around Kure Atoll, Midway Islands (except Sand Island and its harbor), Pearl and Hermes Reef, Maro Reef, Lisianski Island, Laysan Island, Gardner Pinnacles, French Frigate Shoals, Necker Island, and Nihoa Island.
  5. If the Secretary of the Interior finds that it's not possible to designate habitat at the time of listing, it must be determined within one year. The economic impact as well as other relevant impacts are taken into consideration when specifying critical habitat. The Act also requires the Secretary of the Interior to develop and implement recovery plans for listed species. Recovery teams formulate recovery criteria and site-specific management plans. Currently, only slightly more than half of the listed U.S. species have recovery plans. More than 1,200 species worldwide (over 600 in the U.S. alone) are listed as threatened or endangered. In addition, more than 3,500 species are under consideration for listing.

Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), 1972

  1. Governing agencies:
    • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)/U.S. Department of the Interior (USDI)
    • National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)/U.S. Department of Commerce (USDC)
  2. In the early 1970's more than 600,000 dolphins were killed by tuna fishing operations. As a result, the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) was enacted in 1972 to protect all species of whales, dolphins, sea lions, seals, polar bears, walrus, manatees, and sea otters from the negative effects of human activities. The MMPA is jointly administered by the NMFS and the USFWS. Both agencies cooperate with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)/Animal and Plant Inspection Service when issuing permits to maintain marine mammals in captivity.
  3. The following eight species are administered by the USFWS: Amazonian manatee (Trichechus inunguis), West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus), dugong (Dugong dugon), marine otter (Lutra felina), sea otter (Enhydra lutris), polar bear (Ursus martitimus), and walrus (Odobenus rosmarus). All cetaceans and some other marine mammals such as seals and sea lions are the responsibility of the NMFS.
  4. The MMPA prohibits taking and importing marine mammals unless a permit is issued for the purposes of public display, native subsistence, or scientific research. Exemptions to these restrictions are made for specimens taken on or before December 21, 1972 (these pre-Act exemptions don't apply to marine mammals listed under the Endangered Species Act).
  5. The Marine Mammal Commission, established by the MMPA, is an independent agency of the U.S. Executive Branch. The agency is responsible for conducting research programs and overseeing the actions and policies of all Federal agencies with respect to marine mammals. Before issuing a permit, the application is reviewed by the Commission and its Committee of Scientific Advisors.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 1969

  1. Governing agency:
    • All federal agencies must prepare an environmental impact statement or assessment before approving any major federal action that might have an impact on the environment.
  2. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), authorized by Congress in 1969, is a landmark legislation that requires all Federal Government agencies that interpret and administer United States policies, regulations, and public laws to follow nine rules. The rules include requiring Federal agencies to use a systematic, interdisciplinary approach to environmental decision making; to develop procedures for assigning values to environmental concerns which can be directly compared to economic and technical concerns; and to provide detailed reports regarding any proposed projects that may significantly affect the quality of the environment (commonly called environmental impact reports).
  3. The report for a proposed project must include the expected environmental impacts, any unavoidable negative impacts, possible alternatives to the project, an analysis of short-term versus long-term benefits, and any irretrievable report must first consult with other involved agencies regarding the project's environmental impact. For example, if an isolated wetland in Florida is to be filled, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the appropriate Florida state and local agencies.
  4. The remaining NEPA rules require Federal agencies to monitor and evaluate environmental impact reports prepared by state agencies, to help programs designed to maximize international environmental cooperation, to serve as an information resource on a variety of environmental topics, to research alternatives to unresolved environmental conflicts, to use appropriate ecological information in planning and development, and to assist the Council on Environmental Quality.

Bald And Golden Eagle Protection Act, 1940

  1. Governing agency:
    • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)/U.S. Department of the Interior (USDI)
  2. The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, established in 1940 and expanded in 1962, prohibits the taking, possessing, importing/exporting, selling, and transporting of bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and golden eagles (Aguila chrysaetos). Permits for these activities are considered only for scientific, educational, and religious (involving Native American tribes) purposes, and for protection of wildlife or agriculture.

Fur Seal Act, 1966

  1. Governing agency:
    • National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)/U.S. Department of Commerce (USDC)
  2. The Fur Seal Act was enacted in 1966 (before the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972) specifically to protect the northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus) from the commercial sealing trade. The Fur Seal Act regulates the taking, importing, exporting, transporting, possessing, and exhibiting of fur seals along with regulating the scientific research of fur seals. The Act also restricts humans from entering fur seal rookeries.