Endangered Species Act of 1973

Created by Madeleine Brabrook

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Original Draft Date and Amendments

In 1972, Former President Nixon declared that conservation efforts toward preventing species extinction were insufficient, and consequently, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) became a law on December 28, 1973.

ESA was designed to do the following:

  • define “endangered” and “threatened”
  • make plants and all invertebrates eligible for protection
  • apply broad “take” prohibitions to all endangered animal species and allowed the prohibitions to apply to threaten animal species by special regulation
  • require Federal agencies to use their authorities to conserve listed species and consult on “may affect” actions
  • prohibit Federal agencies from authorizing, funding, or carrying out any action that would jeopardize a listed species or destroy or modify its “critical habitat”
  • made matching funds available to States with cooperative agreements
  • provide funding authority for land acquisition for foreign species
  • implement CITES protection in the United States

Congress amended ESA in 1978, 1982, 1988, and 2004 while still maintaining the overall framework of the 1973 version.

International or National?

While the ESA itself is a national law, its roots are international. It was created as a legislative follow-up to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES is an international treaty between governments to protect endangered plants and animals.
The Endangered Species Act: 40 Years at the Forefront of Wildlife Conservation

Successes and Strengths

ESA has drawn significant attention to dwindling and endangered species—"less than one percent of the 2,000 species listed as endangered have gone extinct"—while influencing many land management decisions that affect threatened populations. It has also increased public awareness of species endangerment and extinction. Furthermore, by preventing animal and plant species endangerment and extinction, ESA has maintained the biodiversity of the U.S., which consequently provides more tourist attractions--a economic benefit.
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Weaknesses and Failures

Of the "1,391 domestic animal and plant species listed under the act," the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has declared just "20 species recovered." That represents only a 1 percent recovery rate. The law is failing to achieve its primary purpose of recovering endangered species.

It also reduces ESA-related litigation. "One of the greatest obstacles to the success of the ESA is the way in which it has become a tool for excessive litigation. Instead of focusing on recovering endangered species, there are groups that use the ESA as a way to bring hundreds of lawsuits against the government. In response, agencies have to spend time and resources addressing those lawsuits instead of focusing on species recovery."

The implementation of the ESA oftentimes goes beyond the original intent of species recovery and is instead used to block and delay job-creating economic projects and activities." For example, a renewable-energy wind project in Washington state was abandoned because of the ESA’s overly burdensome regulatory process." Species must be protected without creating a bureaucracy that is so burdensome that it destroys economic activity and jobs.

Suggestions for Improvement

ESA should spend more time focusing on species recovery and less time and resources on filing lawsuits.

ESA should ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent efficiently and wisely. The more lawsuits that are filed, the more money goes to courts, rather than to the purpose of ESA--species recovery.

In the words of Former Representative Doc Hastings, "Updating the 24-year-old Endangered Species Act will help ensure that the law works better to recover endangered species. Congress can no longer kick the can down the road while millions of dollars are wasted on frivolous lawsuits, resources are diverted away from true species recovery, and jobs are lost due to regulatory red tape that does little, if anything, to protect species."

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"The Future of the Endangered Species Act: Challenges, Opportunities, and Partnerships." Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2016.

"HASTINGS: Time to Improve the Endangered Species Act." Washington Times. The Washington Times, n.d. Web. 03 May 2016.

"What Is CITES?" CITES. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2016.