What Is The Endangered Species Act And Why Is It So Vital?
The first federal law that openly exhibited human being’s concern about the protection of the world that they lived in, the Endangered Species Act was milestone legislation promulgated in 1973. For the successful implementation of the legislature of this act, the US government has given the responsibility to the US governing body of “Fish and Wildlife Service”.
In fact, the committee’s diligent efforts have saved almost 99 percent of the species from being completely eradicated off the face of the planet earth. So let us know how this activity works and how it came into being.
Timeline of the Endangered Species Act in the USA
The US government’s concern about the conservation of wildlife started around the middle of the nineteenth century. In 1850, the Swamp Land Act was passed, which had a detrimental effect on the US ecology. Later, in 1972, the Clear Water Act tried to revise and undo some of the consequences of this act. However, in 1880, the Wildbird Protection Act was enacted. It prohibited the capture and killing of wild birds, especially game birds. The sale of any commodities derived from these wild birds was also made punishable by law.
In 1900, the Lacey Act become law, and under that, nobody could make a business out of wildlife, water animals, or flora, which they had not legally taken. Under the Weeks-McLean Act of 1913, the government banned the use of feathers or the hunting of wild birds for fashion and the shooting of migratory birds. In 1918, the US government passed another act specifically to protect migratory birds.
It was actually a treaty that was forged between Great Britain (as Canada’s representative) and the United States, to protect 1,100 species of migratory birds from being hunted or poached. In 1940, another landmark act got initiated for the safeguard of the golden and bald eagles, both endangered species. It was named the “Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act”.
The 1960s saw rapid progression in the environment and ecological preservation initiatives for the US’s flora and fauna. In the year of 1966, the US federation first prepared a list of wildlife that was under the threat of extinction from the earth. Under this act, no individual or organization could harm any of the enlisted species which inhabited the areas marked as a shelter for wildlife of the nation.
It also prohibited importing any animal on that list from a foreign country. Congress added many other provisions to this act in 1969, and finally, it was enlarged and passed as a newly amended Endangered Species Act in 1973.
Key Provisions of the Endangered Species Act
The following are the most important aspects of the Endangered Species Act 1973:
- The government has to ensure a platform or resources to conserve the endangered and threatened fauna and flora, and also the ecosystems or natural habitat in which they thrive.
- The endangered species cannot be taken. That means, no person can indulge in any activity that affects the species adversely. These activities include the destruction of the natural environment of these species, or altering it to the extent that the fauna is forced to modify their breeding, mating, and feeding patterns, and gradually deplete if unable to adapt.
- The animals and plants are incorporated into the list of endangered species if their habitat is experiencing the threat of depletion; if they have been used excessively for commercial or educational profits; if they are afflicted by disease or killed by predatory animals; if there is no existing regulation for saving them.
- There are also very detailed recovery plans set out to restore the original population of the endangered species. These are – preparing a list of eligibility criteria for removal of the species from the list, rules that are both objective and quantifiable; actions to be taken in accordance with the conditions of the site; a detailed estimation of the resources to be spent for making the recovery plan fruitful.
- Each organization that operates directly as a part of the federal government has to seek the approval of the associated wildlife agency in the site they are operating. The said agency must verify whether the activities of the federal organization will not negatively, impact or harm the safe living of the species listed or completely destroy their habitat.
- Unless permissible under Section 7 or 10 of the Endangered Species Act, no person can legally “take” any animal listed under most endangered species.
- There is a special sub-section under the provision of the Endangered Species Act which gives US citizens the liberty to plea or files a petition to include a new or previously non-included species into the list. They can also appeal to the government to take the necessary steps to preserve the species.
Some Myths & Misinformation Surrounding the Endangered Species Act
Due to a lack of awareness about environmental protection, many people have several misconceptions about the Endangered Species Act. Here are some of them:
- Most people think that the Endangered Species Act is ineffective. While it’s true that only 1% of the species listed in the act have recovered enough to leave the list, the task of preventing their status from becoming “extinct” from “endangered” is a Herculean one. In the face of increasing loss of habitat, it is a silver lining to see that the endangered species haven’t witnessed a decrease in their community.
- Some are of the opinion that the Act enables the Government to seize the land of the citizens. No. While it is illegal to kill an endangered species that inhabits the same space as a citizen, be it public or private property, no citizen can be ousted from their homes by any federal activities whatsoever.
Amendments to the Endangered Species Act-
The first amendment to the Endangered Species Act was made in 1978. It was a bit detrimental as certain development projects were exempted from the ESA. From 1978 onwards, a federal committee could review and approve the proceedings of federal agencies, even if it harmed the potentially endangered species.
However, some positive changes also happened. Now the US Fish and Wildlife Service had to demarcate the habitat of the endangered species and protect those areas as well. Furthermore, the US Department of Agriculture received the responsibility to conserve and make plans for the safe existence of the endangered species on agricultural land.
Conclusion: Is The Endangered Species Act Enough? What More Is Ought To Be Done?
While the “Endangered species Act of 1973” has saved many a rare species on the verge of extinction, like the golden bald eagle, for example, but, it was not always effective. The Atlantic salmon, for example, despite efforts for its rejuvenation, did not achieve the desired population. Similarly, most states do not allow critically vulnerable species to be enlisted under the act, citing economic causes as a reason.
Hence, if states are allowed more autonomy in the ESA, it will adversely affect the flora and fauna. It’s high time that Congress allots more budget for the conversation of the aforementioned species and to make the review of the activities of federal agencies involving such fauna to be more stringent. Otherwise, the myths surrounding Endangered Species Act might become reality someday.