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Endangered Species Act | A History of the Endangered Species Act of 1973
Photo credit: Tom Koerner/USFWS
Congress passed the Endangered Species Preservation Act in 1966, providing a means for listing native animal species as endangered and giving them limited protection. The Departments of Interior, Agriculture, and Defense were to seek to protect listed species, and, insofar as consistent with their primary purposes, preserve the habitats of such species. The Act also authorized the Service to acquire land as habitat for endangered species. In 1969, Congress amended the Act to provide additional protection to species in danger of “worldwide extinction” by prohibiting their importation and subsequent sale in the United States. This Act called for an international meeting to adopt a convention to conserve endangered species. One amendment to the Act changed its title to the Endangered Species Conservation Act.
A 1973 conference in Washington, D. C. led 80 nations to sign the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which monitors, and in some cases, restricts international commerce in plant and animal species believed to be harmed by trade.
Later that year, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act of 1973. It
- defined “endangered” and “threatened” [section 3];
- made plants and all invertebrates eligible for protection [section 3];
- applied broad “take” prohibitions to all endangered animal species and allowed the prohibitions to apply to threatened animal species by special regulation [section 9];
- required Federal agencies to use their authorities to conserve listed species and consult on “may affect” actions [section 7];
- prohibited Federal agencies from authorizing, funding, or carrying out any action that would jeopardize a listed species or destroy or modify its “critical habitat” [section 7];
- made matching funds available to States with cooperative agreements [section 6];
- provided funding authority for land acquisition for foreign species [section 8]; and
- implemented CITES protection in the United States [section 8].
Congress enacted significant amendments in 1978, 1982, and 1988, while keeping the overall framework of the 1973 Act essentially unchanged. The funding levels in the present Act were authorized through Fiscal Year 1992. Congress has annually appropriated funds since that time.
Watch an interview with then Service Director Dale Hall discussing the 35-year history of the Service in 2008.
View the comprehensive timeline of the Act.
Download the historical overview of the Act. [244KB]
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