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Spotlight on the 1973 Endangered Species Act

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Proposed rule (download): “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) propose to revise portions of our regulations that implement section 4 of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). The proposed revisions to the regulations clarify, interpret, and implement portions of the Act concerning the procedures and criteria used for listing or removing species from the Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants and designating critical habitat. We also propose to make multiple technical revisions to update existing sections or to refer appropriately to other sections.”

The proposed changes will be posted to the Federal Register. The Trump administration has invited public comment on the rules, which will be open for 60 days on regulations.gov.

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Wikipedia: The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA; 16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq.) is one of the few dozens of US environmental laws passed in the 1970s, and serves as the enacting legislation to carry out the provisions outlined in The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Designed to protect critically imperiled species from extinction as a “consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation”, the ESA was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on December 28, 1973. The U.S. Supreme Court found that “the plain intent of Congress in enacting” the ESA “was to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction, whatever the cost.” The Act is administered by two federal agencies, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

Overview – FWS
Overview: As the principal federal partner responsible for administering the Endangered Species Act (ESA), we take the lead in recovering and conserving our nation’s imperiled species by fostering partnerships, employing scientific excellence, and developing a workforce of conservation leaders.

As we work in partnership with others, our two major goals are to:

Protect endangered and threatened species, and then pursue their recovery; and
Conserve candidate species and species-at-risk so that listing under the ESA is not necessary.

These goals are achieved through the following activities:

Candidate Conservation – Working in partnership with public and private landowners, the Candidate Conservation Program assesses species and develops and facilitates the use of voluntary conservation tools for collaborative conservation of candidate and other species-at-risk and their habitats, so that these species do not need the protection of the ESA.

Consultations – The ESA directs all federal agencies to use their existing authorities to conserve endangered and threatened species and, in consultation with the Service, to ensure that their actions do not jeopardize listed species or destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. This applies to management of federal lands as well as other federal actions that may affect listed species, such as federal approval of private activities through the issuance of federal permits, licenses, or other actions.

Grants – Grants for states and territories, offered through the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund, fund participation in a wide array of voluntary conservation projects for listed and candidate species, as well as species proposed for ESA protection. These funds may in turn be awarded to private landowners and groups for conservation projects.

Habitat Conservation Plans – To obtain a permit for conducting activities that might incidentally harm endangered or threatened wildlife, private landowners, corporations, state or local governments, tribes or other non-federal landowners need to develop a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), designed to offset any harmful effects the proposed activity might have on the species. The Service assists applicants throughout the HCP process, allowing development to proceed consistent with conserving listed species.

International Activities – While the Service’s Ecological Services Program deals primarily with species found in the United States and its territories, and the Service’s International Affairs Program deals primarily with foreign endangered species, these species occasionally overlap. Both programs work closely with the governments of Canada and Mexico to cooperatively conserve species at risk across North America.

Listing and Critical Habitat – Through the Listing Program, the Service determines whether to add a species to the federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife and plants. Listing affords a species the full range of protections available under the ESA, including prohibitions on killing, harming or otherwise “taking” a species. In some instances, listing can be avoided by the development of Candidate Conservation Agreements, which may remove threats facing the candidate species.

Recovery – The goal of the ESA is the recovery of listed species to levels where federal protection is no longer necessary for survival. Toward that goal, we develop and implement recovery plans that provide detailed site-specific management actions for private, federal, and state cooperation in conserving listed species and their ecosystems.

Working With Tribes – Actions taken under authority of the ESA may affect Indian lands, tribal trust resources, or the exercise of American Indian tribal rights. Accordingly, the Service carries out its responsibilities in a manner that harmonizes the federal trust responsibility to tribes, tribal sovereignty, and our mission, and strives to ensure that tribes do not bear a disproportionate burden for the conservation of listed species, so as to avoid or minimize the potential for conflict and confrontation.
Last updated: February 28, 2018

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Endangered Species Act of 1973


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