While there were precursors to the 1973 Endangered Species Act, the signing of this document brought about the most defined changes in wildlife conservation efforts across the world.  The pre-runners to the Endangered Species Act included The Lacey Act of 1900, the Migratory Bird Act of 1929, the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940, the Land and Waters Conservation Fund Act of 1965, and the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966.

The Endangered Species Act was put in place to offer protection to species that were threatened with extinction.  This included grasses, trees, birds, fish, reptiles, mammals, and more.  There are two agencies that are in charge of enforcing the Endangered Species Act: the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  These agencies offer protection to freshwater fish and all other species besides marine species (FWS), and all marine species (NOAA).

ESA Laws

Since its conception in 1973, the Endangered Species Act has undergone numerous revisions and updates.  Rules have been put into place to protect against administrations which are not sympathetic to the cause of wildlife conservation, and policies have come into play to protect against economic distress factors that might affect the outcome of how listings are treated.

These laws are numerous, but some of them include the Recovery Plan, Habitat Conservation Plan, “No Surprise” rule, and more.  The Recovery Plan was put into place as a requirement for the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to create a definite plan of action to recover, or increase numbers of, an endangered species.  The habitat conservation plan was put in place to offer incentives to nonfederal landowners to help with the conservation efforts on their own land.  The “No Surprise” rule was put in place to entice private landowners to aid in the conservation efforts by offering them protection against retaliation if they accidentally killed an endangered species.

Besides the laws put into place, there are also lesser agreements that are often relied on between landowners and the agencies in question.  These agreements include the Safe Harbor Agreement, Candidate Conservation Agreement, and Experimental Population Provision. 

Most of these agreements occur when a private landowner has endangered species on his land.  In the Safe Harbor Agreement, the landowner agrees to alter his property in some way to make way for the endangered species.  The Candidate Conservation Agreement is similar to this, but this agreement was put in place to protect species that were not yet listed but might soon be.  The Experimental Population Provision was put into place to encourage the placement of species into already existing populations.

Through the Endangered Species Act, many conservation efforts have been advanced.  Some of the advances include Legal Private Farming, Confined Breeding Programs, Habitat Conservation Plans, and Reservation Establishment.

Private farming refers to private landowners who “farm” endangered species.  They breed the animals and raise them on their farm.  The farmers can legally sell their product to consumers.  Examples of private farming include sea turtle farms in China, and fish farms in Australia.  Sea turtles are often harvested for their meat, eggs, and shells.  The turtle farmers keep poachers from selling wild sea turtles on the black market.  Fish farms have been started in hopes of reducing fishing in under populated areas.

Private farming has also helped increase the number of southern black rhinoceros and southern white rhinoceros significantly.

Private farming aids in the fight against illegal poaching.  When desirable animals are available for legal purchase it takes away the need for poachers to hunt and kill the animals in the wild.

Confined breeding programs are set up to breed animals which are in confinement.  This includes animals on reservations, at the zoo, or in private confinement.  This occasionally involves the actual mating between male and female in the species, but more commonly comes about through artificial insemination.  This is in part because many animals lose interest in mating once they are placed in confinement.

Habitat conservation plans are programs put in place to recover or restore natural habitats that have been damaged by humans or even weather.  These plans also build new habitats to replace old ones.

Natural habitats are often destroyed in the process of new development.  Today laws are in place that prevent the damage of these lands when there are known endangered species that make their homes there.  However, there are always exceptions.  For instance, if a housing development wants to build in a known habitat they must first find out if the endangered species will be harmed by the development.  Often a report will be prepared.  If the report shows that the species will not be affected, then the development can continue.  However, if the report shows that the species will indeed be harmed, then other steps must be taken.  Sometimes that includes relocation of the species.  Other times it means relocation of the development.

Some habitats are called critical habitats.  These are lands that are in immediate danger from the effects of population growth, diminishing food supply, breeding sites, and seed germination, among other things.  These sites are more closely guarded than a regular habitat.  The Endangered Species Act protects these sites by restricting any federal agency from funding, authorizing, or carrying out any act that might further harm the critical sites.  However, the laws regarding critical habitats do not directly apply to private landowners, or nonfederal landowners.

New habitats are called reservations.  These are protected lands that prevent any development, and some even prevent human interaction within the reserve.

Penalties for Breaking the Laws

In spite of the efforts on the part of federal agencies and individuals, there are many who do not follow the laws provided under the Endangered Species Act.

Those caught poaching in the United States might be fined up to $50,000 and spend a year in prison.  Other countries have their own policies.

There are provisions, however, for those who kill in self-defense or by accident.