Ecological Services Program

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Ecological Services staff use the best available science and sound managerial techniques to further the Service's mission to conserve, protect, and enhance fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. In doing this, staff integrate their Federal authorities with social, political, and economic realities to ensure sound resource decisions while recognizing the importance of a partnership approach addressing the needs of stakeholders, since the vast majority of fish and wildlife habitat is in private ownership. In addition, education and information dissemination are integral parts of all of our activities.

As the principal federal partner responsible for administering the Endangered Species Act (ESA), we take the lead in recovering and conserving our Nation's imperiled species by fostering partnerships, employing scientific excellence, and developing a workforce of conservation leaders. As we work in partnership with others, our two major goals are to: 1) Protect endangered and threatened species, and then pursue their recovery; and 2) Conserve candidate species and species-at-risk so that listing under the ESA is not necessary. These goals are achieved through the following activities:

Listing and Critical Habitat

Through the Listing Program, the Service determines whether to add a species to the Federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife and plants. Listing affords a species the full range of protections available under the ESA, including prohibitions on killing, harming or otherwise "taking" a species. In some instances, listing can be avoided by the development of Candidate Conservation Agreements which may remove threats facing the candidate species.

California condor at Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge,
near Maricopa, Calif. Photo Credit: USFWS

Species Recovery

The goal of the Endangered Species Act is the recovery of listed species to levels where protection under the Act is no longer necessary. Towards that goal, we develop and implement recovery plans that provide detailed site-specific management actions for private, Federal, and State cooperation in conserving listed species and their ecosystems.

To search all available recovery plans nationwide, go to RECOVERY PLANS.

Recovery Permits Program

Section 10(a)(1)(A) of the Act allows for recovery permits to be issued for otherwise prohibited acts if the activity to be permitted is for scientific purposes, to enhance the propagation or survival of the affected species, and for interstate commerce activities. Recovery permits may be issued to scientists and other qualified individuals to conduct permitted activities that further our understanding and long-term survival needs of federally listed species, and to authorize activities that meet other conservation related actions.

Types of recovery permits that may be issued may include permits to conduct presence/absence surveys, monitor populations, capture and study, mark and track, captive breed, conduct genetic and other research activities, and perform educational programs that further the recovery of a federally listed species. Interstate commerce permits may also be issued to allow the sale and transport of federally listed species across state lines.

Learn about the minimum requirements for recovery permits here:

5-Year Reviews

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reviews the status of each federally listed species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 every five years. We conduct these reviews to ensure that our classification of each species on the lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants as threatened or endangered is accurate. A 5-year review assesses the best scientific and commercial data available at the time of the review. Based on review results, we determine whether we should change the listing status of any of these species.

Candidate Conservation

Working in partnership with public and private landowners, the Candidate Conservation Program assesses species and develops and facilitates the use of voluntary conservation tools for collaborative conservation of candidate and other species-at-risk and their habitats, so that these species do not need the protection of the Endangered Species Act.


The ESA directs all Federal agencies to use their existing authorities to conserve threatened and endangered species and, in consultation with the Service, to ensure that their actions do not jeopardize listed species or destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. This applies to management of Federal lands as well as other Federal actions that may affect listed species, such as Federal approval of private activities through the issuance of Federal permits, licenses, or other actions.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offers a suite of grants and other financial assistance opportunities to States and local governments, Tribal governments,institutions of higher education, non-profit organizations, and the public as a way to carry out our responsibilities to conserve species by working in partnership with others.

Habitat Conservation Plans

To obtain a permit for conducting activities that might incidentally harm endangered or threatened wildlife, private landowners, corporations, State or local governments, Tribes or other non-Federal landowners need to develop a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), designed to offset any harmful effects the proposed activity might have on the species. The Service assists applicants throughout the HCP process, allowing development to proceed consistent with conserving listed species.

International Activities

While the Endangered Species Program deals primarily with species found in the U.S. and our territories, and the International Affairs Program deals primarily with foreign endangered species, these species occasionally overlap. Both programs work closely with the governments of Canada and Mexico to cooperatively conserve species at risk across North America.

Working With Tribes

Actions taken under authority of the ESA may affect Indian lands, tribal trust resources, or the exercise of American Indian tribal rights. Accordingly, the Service carries out its responsibilities in a manner that harmonizes the Federal trust responsibility to tribes, tribal sovereignty, and our mission, and strives to ensure that Indian tribes do not bear a disproportionate burden for the conservation of listed species, so as to avoid or minimize the potential for conflict and confrontation.

Environmental Contaminants

When hazardous substances enter the environment, fish, wildlife, and their habitats can be injured. The Environmental Contaminants program consists of three related focus areas.

Prevention, investigation and monitoring

This area performs oil spill response to protect natural resources from contaminant exposure and field studies to determine sources of pollution, to investigate pollution effects on fish and wildlife and their habitat, and to investigate fish and wildlife die-offs.

Natural resources damage assessment (NRDA)

The focus of this area in on identification of the natural resources injured, determines the extent of the injuries, recovers damages from those responsible, and plans and carries out natural resource restoration activities.

Technical support

This area focuses on providing technical support both within the Service and externally on a number of ecological issues. These include endangered species listing and recovery, ESA Sec. 7 and Sec. 10 consultations, Refuge land acquisitions and cleanups, and hazardous waste site remediation.

FWS Division of Environmental Quality