About Us

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) jointly administers the Endangered Species Act (ESA) with the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Our primary responsibilities are terrestrial and freshwater organisms, while the responsibilities of NMFS are mainly marine wildlife such as whales and anadromous fish such as salmon.

The ESA directs us to add endangered and threatened species to the federal lists of endangered and threatened wildlife and plants, and remove species that are not endangered or threatened from these lists.  The classification of a species under the ESA depends on its biological status and threats to its existence.  An “endangered species” is one that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. A “threatened species” is one that is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Any species of plant or animal may be considered for listing as endangered or threatened.

Once we list a species as endangered or threatened, protective measures apply. These measures include:

  • protection from adverse effects of federal activities (through consultations under section 7 of the ESA);
  • restrictions on take and trade;
  • authority for us to develop and carry out recovery plans for listed species under U.S. jurisdiction;
  • authority for us to purchase important habitat; and
  • federal aid to State and Commonwealth wildlife agencies that have cooperative endangered species agreements with us.

Listing also lends greater recognition to a species' precarious status, encouraging conservation efforts by other agencies (foreign, federal, state, and local), independent organizations, and concerned individuals.

Our History

Interest in conserving species in danger of extinction got national attention in 1966 when Congress passed the Endangered Species Preservation Act. Globally, the issue generated action in 1969, when Congress passed the Endangered Species Conservation Act, which recognized that fish and wildlife and plants know no jurisdictional boundaries and that conservation is a global issue. In an international approach, the Act called for a meeting of countries to plan a strategy to prevent extinctions—an event that took place in 1973, when 80 nations gathered in Washington, D.C., demonstrating the scope of the concern. Months later, on December 28, 1973, President Nixon signed into law the Endangered Species Act.

Regulations and Policies

We have developed a number of national policies and issued internal guidance to promote efficiency and consistency in our implementation of the ESA. Below you will find links to summaries of our major policies related to listing and critical habitat.

Policy or RegulationDateDocument
Endangered and Threatened Species Listing and Recovery Priority GuidelinesSeptember 21, 1983; November 15, 1983 - Correction48 FR 43098; 48 FR 51985
Interagency Policy on Information Standards under the ESAJuly 1, 199459 FR 34271
Interagency Policy Regarding the Recognition of Distinct Vertebrate Population Segments Under the ESAFebruary 7, 199661 FR 4722
Final Policy for Evaluation of Conservation Efforts When Making Listing DecisionsMarch 28, 200368 FR 15100
Policy on Interpretation of the Phrase "Significant Portion of Its Range" in the ESA's Definitions of "Endangered Species" and "Threatened Species"July 1, 201479 FR 37577
Implementing Changes to the Regulations for Designating Critical HabitatFebruary 11, 201681 FR 7414
Policy Regarding Implementation of Section 4(b)(2) of the Endangered Species ActFebruary 11, 201681 FR 7226
Methodology for Prioritizing Status Reviews and Accompanying 12-Month Findings on Petitions for Listing Under the Endangered Species ActJuly 27, 201681 FR 49248
Revisions to the Regulations for PetitionsSeptember 27, 201681 FR 66462
Regulations for Prohibitions to Threatened Wildlife and PlantsAugust 27, 201984 FR 44753
Regulations for Listing Species and Designating Critical HabitatAugust 27, 201984 FR 45020
Regulations for Listing Endangered and Threatened Species and Designating Critical HabitatDecember 16, 202085 FR 81411
Regulations for Designating Critical HabitatDecember 18, 202085 FR 82376