Endangered Species Handbook

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Legislation

The Endangered Species Act

     Legislation mandating a list of rare and endangered species was first enacted by Congress in 1966.  The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was amended in 1969 when foreign species were added to the list.  In 1973, a comprehensive model Act replaced the latter act, providing the most extensive safeguards of any legislation in the world to protect declining species.
 
     The ESA prohibits harassing, harming, pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding, killing, trapping, capturing and collecting listed species, unless specifically permitted, or attempting to engage in such activities within the United States or its territorial seas.  Taking on the high seas is also prohibited, as are possessing, selling, delivering, carrying, transporting or shipping any species unlawfully taken within the United States, its territorial seas or on the high seas.  It is also unlawful to deliver, receive, carry, transport or ship in interstate or foreign commerce in the course of commercial activity listed species, or to sell or offer listed species for sale in interstate or foreign commerce.  The prohibitions apply to listed species, live and dead, their parts, and products made from their parts. 
 
      Species are listed in two categories:  Endangered and Threatened.  Endangered is defined as any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all--or a significant portion--of its range.  Prohibitions on activities that affect species may be less strict for animals listed in the Threatened category, but these are regulated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) on a species-by-species basis.  The ESA also allows listing species similar in appearance to those that are Endangered or Threatened, when doing so would provide additional protection for the listed species.
 
     Stiff penalties may be imposed for violations of the Endangered Species Act.  Felonies may be punished with fines up to $50,000 and/or one year imprisonment for crimes involving endangered species, and $25,000 and/or six months imprisonment for crimes involving threatened species.  Misdemeanors or civil penalties are punishable by fines up to $25,000 for crimes involving endangered species and $12,000 for crimes involving threatened species.  A maximum of $1,000 can be assessed for unintentional violations.  Rewards of up to $2,500 are paid for information leading to convictions.
 
     The ESA has been extremely effective in saving wildlife and plant species in danger of extinction.  Contrary to some who have claimed that the Endangered Species Act has interfered with government and private projects, there have been very few conflicts, and on the whole, these have been resolved to the satisfaction of both parties.  The Northern Spotted Owl controversy was resolved by government retraining of loggers and an increase in high technology jobs that more than compensated for jobs lost.  Other arrangements have been made with paper companies to protect the endangered Red-cockaded
Woodpecker and, in southern California, with developers to protect the Coachella Fringe-toed Lizard.  As of August 2001, the USFWS had issued 500 permits for 360 "Habitat Conservation Plans.”  Many involve financial benefit to landowners.  If landowners donate land where endangered species are found to a nonprofit organization or the federal government, the transaction is tax-deductible.  In spite of economic interests who wish to weaken the ESA, the majority of Americans support the law and protection of endangered species (see Vanishing Species chapter).
 
      As of July 31, 2001, the Act listed 1,802 species of animals and plants as Endangered or Threatened.  Of these, a total of 507 animal and plant species were native to the United States.  The Act has been instrumental in saving native species, including endangered species such as the California condor, the Black-footed Ferret and the Bald Eagle, and Threatened species such as the Northern Spotted Owl.  Programs of habitat protection, captive breeding, and other means of aiding in the recovery of listed species have prevented the extinction of hundreds of plant and animal species, many little known to the American public.  The Hawaiian Islands have the largest number of listed species as a result of the destruction of native ecosystems and species by introduced animals and diseases, and clearing of forests for agriculture and ranching.
 
      The Endangered Species Act has also been important in regulating the importation and exportation of exotic species listed.  Foreign species listed totaled 555 animal and three plant species on July 31, 2001.  These species include Leopards; Tigers; all species of rhinoceros; the great whales; the Andean Condor; Harpy Eagle; Imperial Parrot, among many other parrot species; Resplendent Quetzal; all sea turtles; numerous endangered tortoises; endangered caiman and crocodiles; iguanas; and fish, as well as seven endangered foreign invertebrates.  Mammals comprise the majority of foreign species--251 Endangered and 17 Threatened (compared with only 63 Endangered and 9 Threatened U.S. species).  These listings have prevented importation of many endangered species and their products.  Prior to importation of any listed species, or part thereof, a permit must be obtained from the USFWS.  Permits are not granted for commercial exploitation of non-captive-bred endangered species.  Commercial importation of Leopard, Tiger or Ocelot skins, for example, is not allowed under the ESA.  In spite of the severe penalties that can be exacted under the law, including jail sentences, illegal imports continue, and thousands are confiscated by USFWS agents each year.  Many are tourist purchases, such as stuffed sea turtles, fur coats, and taxidermy specimens.  Others are commercial items, such as reptile skins and, recently, products for the Asian medicine trade--Tiger bones and powdered rhinoceros horn.
 
     For zoos, importation of live wild-caught specimens of endangered species requires ESA permits.  If the species is listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which lists many of the same species on Appendix I (the category for species threatened with extinction), both import permits from the U.S. CITES authorities and export permits from foreign CITES authorities are required.  The USFWS has required rigid proof that importation of listed species would not result in declines in wild populations of that species, except for emergency situations where wild populations are under extreme threats such as uncontrolled poaching or habitat destruction.  The combined burden of proof needed for ESA and CITES has been essential in preventing needless removal from the wild of endangered species.  With the proliferation of wild animal parks, small zoos, and animals used in entertainment, the pressure to weaken the ESA to allow importation of endangered species has increased.  One wildlife dealer wrote an editorial in a trade journal, Pet Business (March 1995), that encouraged weakening the ESA:  "There is no logical reason for our government to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, a year to control non-indigenous endangered species."  Without strict regulations under the ESA, however, the Act will lose its value in preventing commercialism of endangered species around the world.


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    ©1983 Animal Welfare Institute