Some of the Major Laws Protecting Endangered Wildlife
A. The Endangered Species Act
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is a federal law passed by the United States
Congress in 1973. The Act protects both endangered species, defined
as those "in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion
of their range," and threatened species, those likely
to become endangered "within the forseeable future." Under the
Act, the term "species" includes species and subspecies of fish,
wildlife and plants, as well as geographically distinct populations of vertebrate
wildlife (including fish) even though the species as a whole may not be
endangered. This flexibility in the Act allows action to be taken to protect
certain members of a species before the entire population becomes threatened.
The Endangered Species Act serves to fulfil the United States commitment
to various international treaties on wildlife conservation (such as CITES).
It is a powerful tool designed to resolve conflicts between proposals for
development and the survival of species. The Endangerd Species Act has proven
to be so effective in helping to protect species that is has served as a
model for the development of similar wildlife protection laws in almost
every state and in other countries.
Two federal agencies are responsible for enforcing the Endangered Species
Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Interior
administers the Act for animals and plants found on land or in fresh water.
The National Marine Fisheries Service of the Commerce Department administers
the Act for marine plants and animals.
The focal point of the Endangered Species Act is the list of endangered
and threatened species. Once a species is added to the list, it enjoys legal
protection designed to help it recover. For all animal species listed as
endangered, it is illegal to kill, hunt, collect, injure or harass them,
or to destruct their habitat in any way. It is also illegal to buy or sell
any species (or products made from species) listed as endangered. The laws
that apply to threatened species can vary depending upon the conservation
needs of the species. Threatened species may often have the same level of
protection as endangered species.
Once a species has been listed, critical habitat is designated to assure
the survival or recovery of the species. The critical habitat may consist
of the area inhabited by the listed species, a portion of the area, or even
additional areas outside the inhabited area- what ever area is determined
"critical" for the species' survival. After listing a species
and defining its critical habitat, the appropriate federal agency (i.e.,
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for terrestrial plants and animals or those
found in fresh water and National Marine Fisheries Service for marine plants
and animals) prepares a recovery plan that is designed to restore the species
to a point where it can be removed from the list.
According to the Act, the decision to list a species is to be based solely
on sound biological information such as the current population size and
how close the species appears to be to extinction. Economic factors are
only to be considered after the species has been listed- in establishing
the location and boundaries for the critical habitat and in the development
of the species' recovery plans.
B. The Marine Mammal Protection Act
In 1972 the United States Congress passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act
(MMPA). The Act was one of the first laws developed to protect a separate
category of wildlife, and makes it illegal for any person under legal jurisdiction
of the United States to kill, hunt, injure or harass all species of marine
mammals, regardless of their population status. In addition, the Marine
Mammal Protection Act also makes it illegal for anyone to import marine
mammals or products made from them into the United States. Marine mammals
protected under this Act include: dolphins, whales, seals, sea lions, sea
otters, polar bears, manatees, dugongs and walruses.
Some exceptions to the Marine Mammal Protection Act exist that allow certain
numbers of marine mammals to be collected for scientific and public display
purposes, to be hunted for subsistence use by natives of the North Pacific
and Arctic coasts, and to be caught incidental to commercial fishing operations.
Similar to the Endangered Species Act, the responsibility for administering
the Marine Mammal Protection Act is shared by two federal agencies. The
National Marine Fisheries Service of the Commerce Department has authority
with regard to all members of the order Cetacea (whales, dolphins and porpoises)
and all members of the order Pinnipedia (seals) except walruses. The U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Interior administers
the Act with respect to all other species of marine mammals (walruses, sea
otters, polar bears, manatees and dugongs).
In addition, a special scientific advisory board was created under the Act
called the Marine Mammal Commission. The purpose of the Marine Mammal Commission
is to serve as an impartial and non-political source of expert scientific
advice relating to marine mammals. Both the National Marine Fisheries Service
and The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are required to consult with the
Marine Mammal Commission in administering their duties under the Marine
Mammal Protection Act. The major role of the Marine Mammal Commission is
to conduct a continual review and study of all populations of marine mammals
and of all activities relating to marine mammals that involve the United
States. The Commission is also responsible for making formal recommendations
for studies and actions it feels are necessary for the protection and conservation
of marine mammals.
The policies embodied in the Marine Mammal Protection Act serve as the official
policies of the United States in the negotiation of international agreements
concerning marine mammals (such as CITES and the International Whaling Convention).
The Marine Mammal Protection Act also provides economic incentives for other
nations to protect marine mammals by restricting the importation of certain
products from foreign countries whose fishing or other practices significantly
reduce the ability of the Act to acheive its goals. The Marine Mammal Protection
Act has also served as a model for the development of laws protecting marine
mammals in other countries.
C. The Convention on International Trade
in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
It became apparent during the 1960s that one of the greatest threats to
the survival of many species was the incredible amount of international
trade in live plants and animals and in products derived from them. Trade
in wildlife products is big business, estimated to gross between five and
seventeen million dollars each year. Ivory, rhinoceros horn, tortoise shell
jewelry and animal pelts are just a sampling of the products involved. In
order to help prevent the continued depletion of wild animal and plant populations
to satisfy the demands for trade, the Convention on International Trade
in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was formed.
CITES is an international treaty that provides protection for wild animal
and plant species in international trade. Final negotiations for the treaty
were completed in 1973, but CITES did not come into force until 1975 after
it was ratified by the United States and 9 other countries. Today 120 nations,
including most major wildlife producing and consuming countries have become
"parties" to the Convention. Becoming a party to CITES means that
the countries have signed the treaty and have agreed to implement it in
territories under their legal jurisdiction. To implement CITES, all parties
are required to develop wildlife protection laws in their countries, and
to establish a Management Authority to issue trade permits for wildlife
products and a Scientific Authority to provide scientific expertise on the
status of species considered for trade. Overall administration of CITES
is through the The United Nations Environmental Program, a body of the United
CITES is designed to promote the conservation of endangered species while
allowing trade in wildlife species that can withstand the pressures of trade.
Under the Convention, there are three categories of protection. Species
listed in Appendix I are threatened with extinction and are or may be affected
by trade. Commercial trade in Appendix I species is strictly prohibited.
Appendix II includes species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction
but that may become threatened if their trade is not carefully regulated.
Species listed in Appendix II may be traded commercially under certain conditions
and with special permits. Appendix III includes species legally protected
within the borders of a party nation that have been determined by that nation
to need international trade control. As with Appendix II species, some trade
in Appendix III species is allowed with special permits.
Currently, over 700 species are listed on Appendix I, including some of
the most endangered plants and animals in the world. The great whales, the
great apes, all sea turtles and rhinoceroses, elephants, most of the large
cats and several species of catcti and orchids are among those listed in
Appendix I. Among the more than 27,000 species included in Appendix II are
all cetaceans, monkeys, parrots, reptiles, and orchids not listed in Appendix
I, as well as many others.
In the United States, CITES is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service which contains the officies of the U.S. Management Authority and
the U.S. Scientific Authority. In addition, the Division of Law Enforcement
enforces CITES by inspecting thousands of wildlife shipments that enter
the United States each year.
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