FAQ's on the ESA

Originally enacted in 1973, the Endangered Species Act’s framers envisioned a law which would protect species believed to be on the brink of extinction. When the law was enacted, there were 109 species listed for protection. Today, there are nearly 2,000 on the list, with 250 species considered as “Candidates” for listing.

Is it true that the ESA has expired?

The authorization for funding of the ESA expired on October 1, 1992, though Congress has appropriated funds in each succeeding fiscal year to ensure continued implementation of the law.

Has the ESA been successful at recovering species?

Unfortunately, the ESA has failed at recovering and delisting species since its inception. Less than one percent of all listed species have been removed from ESA protection since 1973, and many of those are due to extinction or “data error” (i.e. they never should have been listed in the first place). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains the most up-to-date data on domestic species, which may be found on their website

Who administers the ESA?

The Endangered Species Act is administered primarily by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) of the Department of the Interior. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of the Department of Commerce has responsibility for threatened and endangered fish.

What is the difference between an endangered species and a threatened species?

Under the ESA, certain species of plants and animals (both vertebrate and invertebrate) are listed as either “endangered” or “threatened” according to assessments of the risk of their extinction. Once a species is listed, powerful legal tools are brought to bear to enforce the recovery of the species and protection of its habitat. A species may be classified for protection as “endangered” when it is in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. A “threatened” classification is provided to those fish, wildlife and plants likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of their ranges.

What is a species?

A species includes any species or subspecies of fish, wildlife, or plant, and any distinct population segment of any vertebrate species that interbreeds when mature. Excluded is any species of the Class Insecta determined by the Secretary to constitute a pest whose protection under the provisions of the ESA would present an overwhelming and overriding risk to man.

How does a species get listed?

The government relies largely upon petitions to list, surveys conducted by FWS and other agencies’ surveys, and other substantiated reports on field studies. Anyone may petition FWS or NMFS to have a species listed or reclassified as endangered or threatened, or removed from the list. Findings are required before any proposal is published in the Federal Register.

Within 90 days of receiving a petition, FWS must make a finding as to whether the petition presents substantial information that the listing may be warranted.
Within one year of receipt, a finding is required that the listing is either “warranted” or “not warranted.”

A finding of warranted must lead directly to an immediate (less than 30 days) proposed listing, or the Service can find that such an immediate proposal is precluded by other listing activities such that the proposal may not be made for several additional weeks, months or even years. In order to make this secondary finding of “warranted but precluded,” FWS must also be making expeditious progress in its overall listing program (e.g., candidates of higher priority are taken first).

Any warranted but precluded finding must be re-examined on each successive anniversary of the petition’s receipt until the listing is either proposed or the petition is deemed not warranted.

What are the criteria for listing?

A species is only determined to be an endangered species or a threatened species based on any one or more of the following factors (economics or other considerations not listed here are not permissible under the Act):

  • the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range;
  • overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes;
  • disease or predation;
  • the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or
  • other natural or man-made factors affecting its continued existence.

Can I see a copy of the ESA on-line?

A PDF copy of the Endangered Species Act is available on the FWS website

What if I have more questions?

Feel free to contact NESARC via e-mail at nesarc@vnf.com or call us at 202-333-7481.