The US Endangered Species Act
The US Endangered Species Act (ESA) is our nation’s most effective law to protect at-risk species from extinction, with a stellar success rate: 99% of species listed on it have avoided extinction.
Passed with bipartisan support in 1973, the law allows individuals and organizations to petition to have a species listed as endangered or threatened. These listing petitions undergo rigorous scientific evaluation and public review before a final decision is made on whether a species should be protected. The law requires protection for critical habitat areas and the development and implementation of recovery plans for listed species. It also allows for flexibility in its implementation, requiring coordination among federal, state, tribal, and local officials on efforts to prevent extinction.
Populations are monitored over time to determine whether a given species is recovering. When species are considered recovered, they are removed from the list. Viewed as the gold standard for conservation legislation, the ESA is one of the world's most effective laws for preventing and reversing the decline of endangered and threatened wildlife. In 2016, more listed species were found to be partially or completely recovered than in any previous year since the ESA became law.
The rebound of a species is a gradual process that requires a long-term commitment dependent on many factors such as habitat, food availability, reproduction rate, and climate. The longer a species remains listed, the more likely it is to be recovering. Unfortunately, new regulations put in place by the Trump administration undermine the ESA, weakening the United States’ most powerful—and in some cases, only—tool to save species from extinction.
WWF encourages Congress to oppose these changes to the law and, going forward, to focus on what is needed to improve implementation of the ESA by fully funding recovery efforts for the species it seeks to protect.
The ESA and Foreign Species
The ESA also supports the conservation of listed species outside of the US and is the law through which the US enforces the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). CITES is a global agreement between governments to follow rules to monitor, regulate, or ban international trade in species under threat and is a key tool in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade.
Foreign wildlife protected by the ESA receives benefits such as prohibition or regulation of their live or harvested trade across US borders, limitations on commercial activity that would affect their habitat, and increased funding for their conservation. The US is the world’s second-largest consumer market for wildlife and this law helps ensure that US citizens do not contribute to the decline of foreign endangered species. Because of its proven success, the ESA is used in many countries as a model to develop similar conservation legislation.