Endangered Species Act Law and Legal Definition
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is a federal law that was passed in 1973 and can be found at 16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq. It aims to prevent the extinction of those invertebates, vertabrates, and plants listed as threatened or endangered. It is administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which includes the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and Fish and Wildlife Service (FWA). NOAA handles marine species, and the FWS has responsibility over freshwater fish and all other species. Both agencies jointly manage covered species that are found in both habitats.
A species must be listed if it is threatened or endangered due to any of the following five factors:
1. present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range;
2. overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes;
3. disease or predation;
4. inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; and
5. other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence.
After being listed as threatened or endangered, a recovery plan must be created that aims to protect the species from extinction. One method of protection is the creation of a "critical habitat zone", in order to protect against habitat loss that contributes to extinction of a species. In 1978, Congress amended the ESA to require designation of critical habitat zones for all threatened and endangered species except those which might be harmed by the publication of such maps.
The Act requires federal agencies or their non-federal permit applicants to determine whether their proposed action may impact a listed species. FWS or NOAA will provide a list of threatened, endangered, proposed, and candidate species and designated critical habitats that may be present in the project area. If no species or critical habitats are present, then no action is needed. If a listed species is present, then the federal action agency must determine whether the project may affect a listed species. If so, consultation is required. However, if the federal action agency determines that a project may adversely affect a listed species or designated critical habitat, formal consultation is required.