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.
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 Regulation||Date||Document|
|Endangered and Threatened Species Listing and Recovery Priority Guidelines||September 21, 1983; November 15, 1983 - Correction||48 FR 43098; 48 FR 51985|
|Interagency Policy on Information Standards under the ESA||July 1, 1994||59 FR 34271|
|Interagency Policy Regarding the Recognition of Distinct Vertebrate Population Segments Under the ESA||February 7, 1996||61 FR 4722|
|Final Policy for Evaluation of Conservation Efforts When Making Listing Decisions||March 28, 2003||68 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, 2014||79 FR 37577|
|Implementing Changes to the Regulations for Designating Critical Habitat||February 11, 2016||81 FR 7414|
|Policy Regarding Implementation of Section 4(b)(2) of the Endangered Species Act||February 11, 2016||81 FR 7226|
|Methodology for Prioritizing Status Reviews and Accompanying 12-Month Findings on Petitions for Listing Under the Endangered Species Act||July 27, 2016||81 FR 49248|
|Revisions to the Regulations for Petitions||September 27, 2016||81 FR 66462|
|Regulations for Prohibitions to Threatened Wildlife and Plants||August 27, 2019||84 FR 44753|
|Regulations for Listing Species and Designating Critical Habitat||August 27, 2019||84 FR 45020|
|Regulations for Listing Endangered and Threatened Species and Designating Critical Habitat||December 16, 2020||85 FR 81411|
|Regulations for Designating Critical Habitat||December 18, 2020||85 FR 82376|