Congress answered this question in the preamble to the Endangered Species Act of 1973, recognizing that endangered and threatened species of wildlife and plants "are of esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation and its people." It further expressed concern that many of our nation’s plants and animals were in danger of becoming extinct.
Although extinctions have occurred naturally in the past, scientific evidence shows that the current rate of extinction is much higher than in previous centuries. Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history – and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List, species loss continues to increase due to human actions. The main factor driving their decline are changes in land and sea use that result in habitat loss and modification. Direct exploitation of organisms for commercial gains and illegal trade, climate change, invasive species, pollution, and the spread of disease also contribute to rapid species loss.
The health of threatened and endangered species is strongly linked to our own well-being. Millions of Americans depend on habitat that sustains these species – for clean air and water, recreational opportunities, and for their livelihoods. By taking action to protect imperiled native fish, wildlife, and plants, we can ensure a healthy future for our community and protect treasured landscapes for future generations.
The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA), as amended, is federal legislation intended to provide a means to conserve the ecosystems upon which endangered and threatened species depend and provide programs for the conservation of those species, thus preventing extinction of plants and animals.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration share responsibility for implementing the ESA in collaboration with states, tribes, private landowners, non-governmental organizations, and federal partners, focusing on the following principles:
- Conserving and recovering listed species
- Providing conservation incentives
- Increasing public participation in species conservation through grants and partnerships
- Ensuring clear and consistent policies and implementation of ESA regulation
- Basing decisions on sound science
- Providing private landowners and industry with tools to implement projects
In 1970 California became one of the first states to implement a law that conserves and protects endangered species and their environments. The California Endangered Species Act (CESA) declares that "all native species of fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, invertebrates, and plants, and their habitats, threatened with extinction and those experiencing a significant decline which, if not halted, would lead to a threatened or endangered designation, will be protected or preserved."
In California, CDFW oversees CESA and makes sure that citizens follow laws and regulations that are in place. Plant and animal species may be designated threatened or endangered under CESA after a formal listing process by the California Fish and Game Commission.
Species of concern: an informal status (not defined in the Endangered Species Act) meaning a species that might be in need of conservation action. Such species receive no legal protection under the Endangered Species Act but have special standing with the State of California. However, the use of the term does not necessarily imply that a species will eventually be proposed for federal or state listing.
Threatened species: an animal or plant species likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.
Endangered species: an animal or plant species in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.
A species can be listed under the Endangered Species Act in two different ways: through the petition process or through the candidate assessment process.
Through the petition process, any interested person may petition the Secretary of the Interior to add or remove a species on the list of endangered and threatened species. Through the candidate assessment process, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's biologists identify candidate species for listing.
A species is added to the list when it is determined to be endangered or threatened because of any of the following factors:
- the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range;
- overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes;
- disease or predation;
- the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms;
- other natural or man-made factors affecting its survival.
Plant and animal species may be designated as threatened or endangered species under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) after a formal listing process by the California Fish and Game Commission.
The criteria and process for listing a species as candidate, threatened, or endangered are presented in Fish and Game Code Sections 2050, et seq. and Section 670.1, Title 14, California Code of Regulations.
After the Commission receives a CESA listing petition with the required information, CDFW is responsible for preparing a petition evaluation report that includes a recommendation on whether the petition contains sufficient scientific information to indicate that the petitioned action may be warranted. After receiving CDFW’s petition evaluation report, the Commission must decide at a public meeting whether to accept the petition for consideration. If the petition is accepted the species becomes a candidate species, and CDFW begins preparing a peer-reviewed status report on the species that is based on the best scientific information available. As a candidate for listing, the species is temporarily afforded the same protections as a state-listed endangered or threatened species. After CDFW’s status report is complete, the Commission must decide at a public meeting whether the petitioned action is warranted. If the Commission finds that the petitioned action is not warranted, the process ends, and the species will be removed from the list of candidate species. If the Commission finds that the petitioned action is warranted, the species will be added to the list of threatened or endangered species.
Yes, species can be removed from the list (delisted) for three reasons: recovered to the point that they no longer need the Endangered Species Act protections (“recovery”), irretrievable loss due to extinction (“has gone extinct”), or due to original data errors. Species can also be reclassified from Endangered to Threatened (downlisted). Recovery Plans for listed species identify delisting and downlisting goals, which help guide evaluation as to what a recovered species might be, using best available information. When a species reaches these goals, federal or state agencies assess the status of the species, including a number of factors: such as population size, recruitment, stability of habitat quality and quantity, and control or elimination of the threats from the time the species was listed to the present day.
Critical habitat is a term defined in the Endangered Species Act as specific geographic areas that contain features essential to the conservation of an endangered or threatened species and that may require special management and protection. Critical habitat may also include areas that are not currently occupied by the species but will be needed for its recovery.
An invasive species is one that is not native to an ecosystem and which causes, or is likely to cause, economic or environmental harm or harm to human health. Invasive species degrade, change or displace native habitats and compete with our native fish and wildlife for space, food or shelter. Learn more about invasive species.
A recovery plan is a document developed by species experts in collaboration with CDFW, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or other knowledgeable individuals or groups, which serves as a guide (“road map”) for activities to be undertaken by federal, state, or private entities to help recover and conserve endangered or threatened species. Recovery planning is an essential part of implementing both state and federal Endangered Species Acts.
In many cases, private lands provide high quality habitat for threatened and endangered species and are important to the recovery of listed species. If you think you might have endangered species on your property you can consult with local resource agencies for guidance. A landowner can request an official Species List for their project through for Planning and Consultation (IPaC); the list is automatically generated and logged into from the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service IPaC and the California Endangered Species Act which describes Federal versus State laws, codes, definitions, and regulations. Please also see the CNDDB page that houses information on the status and locations of all threatened and endangered species in California.
Landowners may also consider hiring a biologist experienced with the species in their area and ask them to conduct surveys. In some cases, surveys may require a permit. Your certified biologist can help with that process.
State and federal law prohibit a person from taking a listed animal without a permit. Take, according to the Endangered Species Act, is defined as “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect or attempt to engage in any such conduct” and the California Fish and Game Code Section 86 defines it as "to hunt, pursue, catch, capture, or kill, or attempt to hunt, pursue, catch, capture, or kill." The take prohibition encompasses significant habitat modification or degradation that results in the direct killing or injury to listed animal species. Note that many states have their own laws restricting activity involving listed species.
Depending on the type of work and the potential impacts to the habitat or species, federal and state regulations prohibit the take of any species of wildlife designated as endangered, threatened, or candidate species. Resource agencies may authorize the take of any such species if certain conditions are met. If you believe your work may cause take it is a good idea to contact CDFW, U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services before breaking ground.
You should stop work and immediately contact CDFW, U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
If your work is an otherwise lawful activity you may be able to continue after consulting with CDFW, U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and either obtaining the appropriate permits or implementing avoidance measures. There are exemptions to the take prohibition for some agricultural activities, so you should check with your local CDFW, NOAA or USFWS office.
The California Endangered Species Act requires impacts to state listed species be minimized and fully mitigated. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the National Environmental Policy Act both require that the potential impacts on species, habitat and farmland from development be considered. Measures implemented within a project to balance those negative impacts through a process known as “mitigation.” Mitigation is frequently required when significant impacts are identified by the environmental review process. Mitigation is defined in Section 15370 of the California Code of Regulations (CEQA Guidelines) as:
- Avoiding the impact altogether by not taking a certain action or parts of an action.
- Minimizing impacts by limiting the degree or magnitude of the action and its implementation.
- Rectifying the impact by repairing, rehabilitating, or restoring the impacted environment.
- Reducing or eliminating the impact over time by preservation and maintenance operations during the life of the action.
- Compensating for the impact by replacing or providing substitute resources or environment.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states the Endangered Species Act (ESA) provides a program for the conservation of threatened and endangered plants and animals and the habitats in which they are found. The lead federal agencies for implementing ESA are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service. The USFWS maintains a worldwide list of endangered species. Species include birds, insects, fish, reptiles, mammals, crustaceans, flowers, grasses, and trees.
The law requires federal agencies, in consultation with the USFWS and/or the NOAA Fisheries Service, to ensure that actions they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any listed species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat of such species. The law also prohibits any action that causes a "taking" of any listed species of endangered fish or wildlife. Likewise, import, export, interstate, and foreign commerce of listed species are all generally prohibited.
CDFW states the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) is a California environmental law enacted in 1970 and amended in 1984 and 1997 (PDF) that conserves and protects plant and animal species at risk of extinction. Plant and animal species may be designated threatened or endangered under CESA after a formal listing process by the California Fish and Game Commission. Approximately 250 species are currently listed under CESA. A CESA-listed species, or any part or product of the plant or animal, may not be imported into the state, exported out of the state, “taken” (i.e., killed), possessed, purchased, or sold without proper authorization. Implementation of CESA has reduced and avoided impacts to California’s most imperiled plants and animals, has protected hundreds of thousands of acres of vital habitat, and has led to a greater scientific understanding of California’s incredible biodiversity.
The Saving Species Together videos were funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation with community service funds paid by the defendant in a federal case captioned as U.S. v. Wildlife Management, LLC (N.D. California) for the purpose of funding enforcement, training, and education related to the destruction of endangered species and its habitats in Northern California. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation consulted with CDFW, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and NOAA Fisheries, as to the best use of these funds for these purposes and together decided upon educational videos which could be used by the agencies in permitting, enforcement, education and outreach contexts for the public and private landowners.
The group determined that four videos, each featuring a representative endangered or threatened species at risk from four different species groups: amphibian, avian, terrestrial mammal and aquatic would be ideal. The California tiger salamander was selected since it was the species at issue in the federal case that resulted in the community service funds. The other species (Coho salmon, Western snowy plover and San Joaquin kit fox) were selected because they are in Northern California, are affected by habitat loss from human activities, and could benefit significantly from public education and outreach. In addition, in general terms, much of the information in the Saving Species Together videos can be applied to other listed species as well.