What is an “Endangered Species”?
An endangered species is an animal or plant that’s considered at risk of extinction. A species can be listed as endangered at the state, federal, and international level. On the federal level, the endangered species list is managed under the Endangered Species Act.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was enacted by Congress in 1973. Under the ESA, the federal government has the responsibility to protect endangered species (species that are likely to become extinct throughout all or a large portion of their range), threatened species (species that are likely to become endangered in the near future), and critical habitat (areas vital to the survival of endangered or threatened species).
The Endangered Species Act has lists of protected plant and animal species both nationally and worldwide. When a species is given ESA protection, it is said to be a “listed” species. Many additional species are evaluated for possible protection under the ESA, and they are called “candidate” species.
Why We Protect Them
The Endangered Species Act is very important because it saves our native fish, plants, and other wildlife from going extinct. Once gone, they’re gone forever, and there’s no going back. Losing even a single species can have disastrous impacts on the rest of the ecosystem, because the effects will be felt throughout the food chain. From providing cures to deadly diseases to maintaining natural ecosystems and improving overall quality of life, the benefits of preserving threatened and endangered species are invaluable.
How a Species Gets Listed
When the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service is investigating the health of a species, they look at scientific data collected by local, state, and national scientists. In order to be listed as a candidate, a species has to qualify for protected status under the Endangered Species Act. Whether or not a species is listed as endangered or threatened then depends on a number of factors, including the urgency and whether adequate protections exist through other means.
When deciding whether a species should be added to the Endangered Species List, the following criteria are evaluated:
- Has a large percentage of the species’ vital habitat been degraded or destroyed?
- Has the species been over-consumed by commercial, recreational, scientific or educational uses?
- Is the species threatened by disease or predation?
- Do current regulations or legislation inadequately protect the species?
- Are there other man-made factors threatening the long-term survival of the species?
If the answer to one or more of the above questions is yes, then the species can be listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Once a species becomes listed as “threatened” or “endangered,” it receives special protections by the federal government. Animals are protected from “take” and being traded or sold. A listed plant is protected if on federal property or if federal actions are involved, such as the issuing of a federal permit on private land.
The term “take” is used in the Endangered Species Act to include “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.” The law also protects against interfering in vital breeding and behavioral activities or degrading critical habitat.
The primary goal of the Endangered Species Act is to make species’ populations healthy and vital so they can be delisted from the Endangered Species Act. Under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service oversees the listing and protection of all terrestrial animals and plants as well as freshwater fish. NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service oversees marine fish and wildlife. The two organizations actively invest time and resources to help bring endangered or threatened species back from the brink of extinction.
- Habitat loss and habitat degradation
- The spread of introduced species (that is, non-native species that negatively affect the ecosystems they become part of)
- The growing influence of global warming and chemical pollution
- Unsustainable hunting
Although some of these hazards occur naturally, most are caused by human beings and their economic and cultural activities. The most pervasive of these threats is habitat loss and degradation—that is, the large-scale conversion of land in previously undisturbed areas driven by the growing demand for commercial agriculture, logging, and infrastructure development. Because the rates of loss are highest in some of the most biologically diverse regions on Earth, a perpetual battle is waged to manage destructive activities there while limiting the impact that such restrictions may have on the well-being of local communities. The relative importance of each threat differs within and among taxa. So far, incidental mortality from ecological disturbance, temporary or limited human disturbance, and persecution have caused limited reductions in the total number of species; however, these phenomena can be serious for some susceptible groups. In addition, global warming has emerged as a widespread threat, and much research is being conducted to identify its potential effects on specific species, populations, and ecosystems.
Source: The National Wildlife Federation