North Dakota Field Office
Mountain-Prairie Region

Endangered Species Act


Findings and purpose of the Endangered Species Act

When congress authorized the Endangered Species Act in 1973, they declared that species of "fish, wildlife, and plants are of aesthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation and its people." The purpose of the Act is to provide a means whereby endangered species and their ecosystems may be conserved.  The intent of the Endangered Species Act is not to just list species as endangered or threatened, but rather, to recover the populations of these species to a point where they can be removed from the list.

History of the Endangered Species Act

Laws passed in the late 1960's gave limited attention to endangered species; however, it wasn't until the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973 that significant protection was granted to rare species.  This landmark law, considered by some the most significant environmental law ever passed, has been amended and reauthorized by Congress on numerous occasions, most recently in 1988.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administers the law for all inland species and certain marine species.  The National Marine Fisheries Service administers the law for marine species.

Present status

The Endangered Species Act was due for reauthorization in 1992.  Currently congress continues its debate on the reauthorization language.

What are endangered species?

The Endangered Species Act states that the Secretary of the Interior shall determine species as endangered or threatened based on manmade factors affecting their continued existence.

bullet Endangered: Species listed as endangered are in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their range.
bullet Threatened: Species listed as threatened are species which are likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future.
bullet Candidates: The Fish and Wildlife Service maintains a list of candidate species which may warrant listing as endangered or threatened; however, the data are inconclusive. Candidate species are not protected under the Endangered Species Act.

How many threatened or endangered species are there?

As of April 30, 2000, 1,230 species were listed as either endangered or threatened in the United States. As of May 5, 2000, 1,789 species were listed worldwide. To see a detailed break out of the species by group (e.g. mammals, birds, fishes, flowering plants, etc.), check out the listing of species maintained by our Washington, D.C. office.

Are species still becoming extinct?

Yes! Scientists estimate that three or more species become extinct every day, and that number is expected to continue to rise dramatically this century.

Why save endangered species?

There are many reasons to save endangered species.

bullet Genetic diversity: All organisms store valuable genetic makeup that once lost, is gone forever. For example, scientists recently found an extremely rare form of corn in South America. This wild cousin of our domestic corn is noteworthy because it is a perennial (a single plant lives for many years). If this wild corn can be hybridized with domestic corn, it may relieve farmers from having to replant corn every spring.
bullet Direct uses: Many forms of plants and animals are used directly by humans. Medicines derived from plants have a commercial value of about $40 billion a year. Scientists continue finding new plants for medicinal purposes. For example, researchers have recently found that the Pacific yew, a scrubby "non-economically important" tree found in the rapidly disappearing old growth forests of the northwestern United States, may provide a treatment for cancer.
bullet Environmental monitors: Many species of wildlife and plants are more susceptible to changes in the environment than humans are and, therefore, will show detrimental effects before humans do. For example, in the 1960's there was a dramatic decrease in the number of bald eagles. Scientists eventually discovered that the shells of eagle eggs were thinning because of an accumulation in eagles of byproducts from the pesticide DDT. Eagles accumulated the byproducts from the fish they ate that had accumulated the pesticide from the food they ate. Many of these same species of fish were also eaten by humans.
bullet Ecological reasons: All species are interdependent on other species in what is known as the ecological web. For example, many plants have evolved to be pollinated by a specific butterfly. If that species of butterfly became extinct, the plant would eventually also become extinct. Subsequently, other species that depend on the plant may also become extinct.
bullet Recreation: The numbers of people who enjoy nature continues to grow every year. Dollars spent in the pursuit of outdoor recreation are in the millions, and increasing.
bullet Ethical reasons: By causing the extinction of a species today, we are depriving future generations of the experiences and values that the species may have provided.

How does the Act affect me?

The Endangered Species Act has little affect on individuals and property owners. Individuals are affected if they "harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect" endangered or threatened species unless exempted by a permit.

Can I participate? 

Yes! The Endangered Species Act allows and encourages the public to comment and participate on activities concerning endangered species.


For more information on endangered species in North Dakota, or to assist in protecting endangered species, contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 701-250-4481, 3425 Miriam Ave., Bismarck ND 58501. For additional information on endangered species, contact our Washington, D.C. web site at

Last updated: February 19, 2013