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.
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.
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:
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.
Endangered Species Day, which falls on the third Friday in May each year, is a day to celebrate endangered species success stories and learn about species still in danger. Learn what the National Wildlife Federation is doing to protect endangered species and how to support Endangered Species Day.
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More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. We're on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 53 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.