Endangered Species
Ecological Services

Listing and Critical Habitat | Overview

Sprague's pipit (<em>Anthus spragueii</em), a species that is a candidate for listing as endangered or threatened.

The Sprague's pipit (Anthus spragueii), a species that is a candidate for listing as endangered or threatened.

Photo credit: USFWS

Before a plant or animal species can receive the protection provided by the Endangered Species Act (ESA), it must first be added to the federal lists of endangered and threatened wildlife and plants. The List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife (50 CFR 17.11) and the List of Endangered and Threatened Plants (50 CFR 17.12) contain the names of all species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, insects, plants, and other creatures that have been determined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) or the National Marine Fisheries Service (for most marine life) to be in the greatest need of federal protection.

A species is added to the list when it is determined to be endangered or threatened because of any of the following factors:

  • the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range;
  • overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes;
  • disease or predation;
  • the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms;
  • other natural or manmade factors affecting its survival

But how exactly does a species become listed under the ESA? It can happen two different ways: through the petition process or through the candidate assessment process. The ESA provides that any interested person may petition the Secretary of the Interior to add a species to, or to remove a species from, the list of endangered and threatened species. Through the candidate assessment process, Service biologists identify species as listing candidates.

For all the details, download the Listing fact sheet. [328KB]

So what does it mean to be listed?

Among the conservation benefits authorized for threatened and endangered plants and animals under the ESA are: protection from being jeopardized by federal activities; restrictions on take and trade; a requirement that the Service develop and implement recovery plans for listed species under U.S. jurisdiction; authorization to seek land purchases or exchanges for important habitat; and federal aid to State and Commonwealth conservation departments with cooperative endangered species agreements. Listing also lends greater recognition to a species' precarious status, encouraging conservation effort by other agencies (foreign, federal, state, and local), independent organizations, and concerned individuals.

Section 7 of the ESA directs federal agencies to use their legal authorities to carry out conservation programs for listed species. It also requires these agencies to ensure that any actions they fund, authorize, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the survival of any endangered or threatened species, or to adversely modify its designated critical habitat (if any). When an agency finds that one of its activities may affect a listed species, it is required to consult with the Service to avoid jeopardy. If necessary, "reasonable and prudent alternatives," such as project modifications or rescheduling, are suggested to allow completion of the proposed activity while still conserving the species. Where a federal action may jeopardize the survival of a species that is proposed for listing, but has not yet been finalized and added to the list, the federal agency is required to "confer" with the Service (although the recommendations resulting from such a conference are not legally binding).

Additional protection is authorized by section 9 of the ESA, which makes it illegal to take, import, export, or engage ininterstate or international commerce in listed animals except by permit for certain conservation purposes. The ESA also makes it illegal to possess, sell, or transport any listed species taken in violation of the law. For plants, trade restrictions are the same but the rules on "take" are different. It is unlawful to collect or maliciously damage any endangered plant on lands under federal jurisdiction. Removing or damaging listed plants on state and private lands in knowing violation of state law, or in the course of violating a state criminal trespass law, also is illegal under the ESA. In addition, some states have more restrictive laws specifically prohibiting the take of state or federally listed plants and animals.

View or download recent listing notices or actions announcements in the Federal Register.

Learn more about candidate conservation.

Use our species search tools to find out how many and which species are listed, where they are listed, more about individual species, proposed and candidate species information, or other threatened and endangered species information.

Read about critical habitat essential to a species' conservation and how it relates to the listing process.

Access the full library of documents related to listing.

Read the Service's policies regarding listing.

Read a public advisory on submitting petitions under the ESA.

Last updated: January 12, 2015