The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service promotes the protection of certain animal, plant and insect species that are in danger of becoming extinct. Through this protective service, plans can be made to increase species numbers by saving habitat, adopting breeding programs and raising awareness among the U.S. population. With this protection, certain species have recovered and been "delisted," although they may remain under protection of the state they inhabit.
Endangered Species Act
As a national symbol, the bald eagle's plight was a concern to conservationists. The government had legislation to protect wildlife prior to the passing of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973; however, the ESA provided two important legislative provisions. With the ESA, citizens were permitted to sue the government for protection of specific species or subspecies, which can result in a listing. The Act also provides landscape and habitat protection for species in danger, a provision that has been integral in the ESA’s success.
Making the List
The list itself is governed by both the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, but only one organization needs to be involved in approving a species for protection. Typically, the agencies will be prompted by citizen action, receiving a petition from a group or individual to list a plant or animal. The agencies can intervene without citizen petition, however. Once a petition has been received, the agency is given 90 days to determine whether or not federal protection is warranted. If the species is found in danger, a year is needed to conduct a status review, gathering important data like population trends and survival threats. After the year’s time, another assessment is made, and the agency decides if protection should be granted. If it is denied, a concerned party can take legal action against the agency.
Once a plant or animal is on the list, it typically stabilizes or recovers. The ESA prompts partnerships with state and foreign governments, federal agencies, private landowners, the business community and other nongovernmental organizations. Since 1973, the agencies enacting the ESA have delisted 10 species -- including both animals and plants -- due to recovery. Given the thousands on the list, that statistic may not seem successful. However, just because a species is not delisted it does not mean the ESA is ineffective. The Act has saved approximately 900 species from extinction, stabilized or improved 350 species and downlisted 16 species from endangered to threatened.
Perhaps the most high profile recovery story is that of the bald eagle. It fought its way back over 40 years to reach a stable and prosperous condition, earning its delisting in 2007. Other avian species have also recovered enough to be delisted -- the Aleutian Canada Goose and the American peregrine falcon. The American alligator spent 20 years on the endangered list, but recovered enough to be removed in 1987. The brown pelican was also endangered, becoming a list member in 1970. It recovered faster than the alligator and was delisted in 1985. The gray whale was another animal hunted to near extinction which made a slow and steady comeback. It was removed from the ESA list in 1997. One of the most recent recovery stories is that of the Lake Erie watersnake, which came off the list in June 2010.
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