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What is the Endangered Species Act (ESA)?

The ESA has helped stabilize populations of species at risk, prevented the extinction of many others, and conserved the habitats upon which they depend. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service collaborates with states, tribes, private landowners, non-governmental organizations, and federal partners to achieve on-the-ground conservation for species and habitats around the country. It is only through our inclusive efforts with the conservation community that we can collectively protect our shared resources.

  • What is the ESA

    Many consider the Endangered Species Act (ESA) the most powerful and important federal law protecting imperiled plants and animals. When Congress passed the ESA in 1973, it recognized that our rich natural heritage is of “esthetic, ecological, educational, recreational, and scientific value to our Nation and its people.” It further expressed concern that many of our nation’s native plants and animals were in danger of becoming extinct.

    The purpose of the ESA is to protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. It is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The FWS has primary responsibility for terrestrial and freshwater organisms, while the responsibilities of NMFS are mainly marine wildlife such as whales, coral, and Hawaiian monk seals.

    Under the ESA, species may be listed as either endangered or threatened. “Endangered” means a species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. “Threatened” means a species is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future. 

    Listing and Critical Habitat in the Pacific

    Recovering Endangered Species in the Pacific

    Endangered Species in the News

    Resources and Guidance

    View and learn more about each section of the ESA.

    Learn the history of the ESA.

    Access the full library of documents related to the ESA.

    History of the ESA and its implementation

    Who administers the ESA

    Policies, Secretarial Orders and regulations that we use to guide our implementation of the Endangered Species Act

    For viewing or downloading announcements of new policies, regulations, and decisions we posted in the Federal Register, please see the Federal Register page

    Endangered Species Glossary (PDF)


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