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Permits | Frequently Asked Questions
What activities are prohibited?
The ESA makes it unlawful to import or export; deliver, receive, carry, transport, or ship in interstate or foreign commerce in the course of a commercial activity; sell or offer for sale in interstate or foreign commerce; take (includes harm, harass, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect any wildlife within the United States); take on the high seas; possess, ship, deliver, carry, transport, sell, or receive unlawfully taken wildlife; remove and reduce to possession any plant from areas under Federal jurisdiction; maliciously damage or destroy an endangered plant on areas under Federal jurisdiction; and remove, cut, dig up, or damage or destroy any endangered plant in knowing violation of any State law or regulation or in the course of a violation of a State criminal trespass law.* These prohibitions apply to live or dead animals or plants, their progeny (seeds in the case of plants), and parts or products derived from them.
Some activities that might otherwise be prohibited are exempt. Other activities are allowed in accordance with permit provisions.
What kinds of activities can permits authorize?
The activities authorized by permits differ depending on whether the species is listed as endangered or threatened. An endangered species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. A threatened species is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.
For endangered species, permits may be issued for scientific research, enhancement of propagation or survival, and taking that is incidental to an otherwise lawful activity.
For threatened species, permits also may be issued for zoological, horticultural, or botanical exhibition; educational use; and special purposes consistent with the ESA.
A person registered with the FWS may obtain a captive-bred wildlife permit to buy and sell within the United States live, non-native endangered or threatened animals that were captive born in the United States for enhancement of species propagation, provided the other person in the transaction is registered for the same species. A separate permit is needed to import or export such species. Captive-bred wildlife permits are not issued to keep or breed endangered or threatened animals as pets. Using protected species as pets is not consistent with the purposes of the ESA, which is aimed at conservation of the species and recovery of wild populations.
What situations are exempt from the prohibitions of the ESA?
Species held in captivity or in a controlled environment on (a) December 28, 1973, or (b) the date of publication in the Federal Register for final species listing, whichever is later, are exempt from prohibitions of the ESA, provided such holding or any subsequent holding or use of the specimen was not in the course of a commercial activity (any activity that is intended for profit or gain). An affidavit and supporting material documenting pre-ESA status must accompany the shipment of listed species. A pre-ESA exemption does not apply to wildlife, including parts and products, offered for sale. Any endangered or threatened specimens born in captivity from pre- ESA parents is fully protected and is not considered pre-ESA.
Antiques, including scrimshaw, may be imported into the United States if accompanied by documentation that shows the article is at least 100 years old and has not been repaired or modified with any part of an endangered or threatened species since December 28, 1973. Such antiques must enter through a U.S. Customs Service port. If the antique contains a species listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the shipment must be accompanied by a Pre-Convention Certificate.
For a species that is listed as threatened or as an experimental population, special rules may allow otherwise prohibited activities. Some foreign species that have special rules include several primates, the African elephant, Nile crocodile, and leopard. Some native species that have special rules include the Utah prairie dog, Louisiana black bear, greenback cutthroat trout, and six sea turtle species.
Commercial activities that take place entirely in one State and involve legally acquired endangered or threatened species are not prohibited by the ESA. However, many States have their own laws which regulate activities involving protected species. Contact the appropriate State agency before undertaking activities involving endangered or threatened wildlife and plants.
Offer for Sale
Endangered and threatened species may be advertised for sale provided the advertisement states that no sale may be consummated until an interstate commerce permit has been obtained from the Service.
Loans and Gifts
Lawfully taken and held endangered and threatened species may be shipped interstate as a bona fide gift or loan if there is no barter, credit, other form of compensation, or intent to profit or gain. A standard breeding loan, where no money or other consideration changes hands but some offspring are returned to the lender of a breeding animal, is not considered a commercial activity and, thus, is not prohibited by the ESA and does not require a permit. Documentation of such an activity should accompany shipment.
Hybrids are offspring of animals or plants whose parents are different species or subspecies and, in the case of the ESA, at least one parent is a listed species. Hybrid offspring of animals bred or propagated in captivity are not protected by the ESA. It is recommended that breeding records be maintained to show parentage and hybrid status. CITES and laws such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) consider hybrids protected.
Prohibitions under the ESA do not apply to any endangered or threatened raptors legally held in captivity since November 10, 1978, or to any progeny, provided that they are possessed and banded under the terms of an MBTA permit and are identified in the earliest annual report required by permit. The bald eagle is protected by the MBTA and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA).
Seeds from Artificially Propagated Threatened Plants
No permits are required for activities involving seeds from artificially propagated specimens of threatened plants. However, seeds must be accompanied by a label stating that they are of cultivated origin.
What other offices issue permits for endangered or threatened species?
The FWS Division of Management Authority, located in our headquarters office, issues permits for foreign endangered and threatened species, and for import/export of native and foreign species. It is also responsible for issuing captive breeding permits and permits allowing the use of live specimens of listed species for conservation education.
NMFS has jurisdiction for whales, seals, and sea lions. NMFS also has jurisdiction for sea turtles in the water; the Service has jurisdiction on land. Jurisdiction varies between NMFS and the Service for anadromous fish such as salmon, trout, steelhead, and sturgeon. The Service has jurisdiction for listed marine mammals such as the West Indian manatee and southern sea otter, as well as all sea birds. To see whether a species is under the jurisdiction of NMFS, go to the Office of Protected Resources Web page.
What other laws apply?
Depending on the species involved, other requirements may need to be met under CITES, the MBTA, the BGEPA, the Wild Bird Conservation Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Lacey Act, and State or local laws.
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