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Environmental Law - Endangered Species Act

listed critical habitat protection

In 1973, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was enacted to stop the extinction of many species of wild animals and plants in the United States, other nations, and at sea. It provided mechanisms for the conservation of ecosystems on which endangered species depend. It also discouraged the exploitation of endangered species in other countries by banning the importation and trade of any product made from such species. Of critical concern was the loss of biodiversity through species extinction. This is an irreversible process and a fundamental environmental problem. The Secretaries of the Interior and Commerce administer the ESA. The National Marine Fisheries Service is responsible for marine species while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for freshwater and terrestrial species.

The ESA provides two levels of protection for listed species. Those that are considered to be in immediate danger of extinction are listed as endangered and are provided with stringent protection regulations. If a plant or animal is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range (the region in which it lives), then it is considered endangered. Species that are likely to become endangered in the future are listed as threatened and protected with less restrictive regulations. A candidate species is a species under review for listing. The ESA prohibits the using, taking, possessing, selling, or marketing for sale or trade those species registered on the endangered list. Any international species may be recorded on the endangered species list.

Once a species is confirmed for the listing, a critical habitat must be specified. The critical habitat is the area which is required for the species to essentially thrive. Through this special protection the conservancy of the species is instituted. A species may be listed as endangered or threatened for one or more of the following reasons: alteration or reduction of habitat or range; overuse for business, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; futile protection regulations; disease, predatory effects or poaching, and any other natural forces or human activities affecting the survival possibilities. Generally, the economic impact as well as other factors are taken into consideration when designating critical habitat.

The ESA requires that the Secretary of Interior institute a recovery plan for listed species. A recovery team sets down parameters and management plans specific to the endangered species' critical habitat. By May of 1997 only slightly more than half of the listed U.S. species had recovery plans. More than 1,200 species worldwide, including more than 600 in the U.S. alone, are listed as threatened or endangered. Additionally, over 3,500 species are under consideration for listing.

A similar act to the ESA is the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972, which was enacted as a result of the large number of dolphins that were being killed by tuna fishing operations in the early 1970s. The MMPA protects all species of whales, dolphins, sea lions, seals, polar bears, walrus, manatees, and sea otters from the impact of human activities. In the United States, 30 percent of endangered species are aquatic.

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