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Endangered Species Act of 1973

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The Endangered Species Act

The second half of the twentieth century was a time of the greatest advancements in environmental awareness in history. It was during this time that people began to realize there impact on the environment.  People began to realize that something must be done to stop the negative impacts on their surroundings which caused the environmental movement to be born. One of the most important factors that resulted from this has been the protection of endangered species. Many actions have been taken to ensure the protection of endangered species including two major policies: CITES and the Endangered Species Act.  
         In 1966, Congress passed the Endangered Species Preservation Act, this provided limited protection to a list of native animal species. The Departments of Agriculture, Interior and Defense were responsible for the protection of these species and the preservation of their habitats. This act also gave land to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help maintain these natural habitats. The Endangered species act was amended in 1969 because more protection was needed. With the threat of worldwide extinction, the amendment called for an international meeting and changed the name to the Endangered Species Conservation Act.
          Several years later, in 1973, the United States and twenty-three other nations signed an international act called CITES or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna. CITES monitors and restricts international commerce to protect species impacted by trade. The ideas of creating this convention began in the 60s, when several African countries noticed population declines in species that are commonly killed for their skins. At the time, jaguar skins were being imported to the US at rates of up to 13,000 skins per year. Because this treaty was international, it was widely celebrated as a huge advancement in endangered species legislation. To this day, it is still considered one of the most important international endangered species treaties in existence. Congress also passed the Endangered Species Act. It outlined eight primary objectives designed to expand the scope of the act. Three further amendments were enacted in 1978, 1982, and 1988.
         CITES as a treaty aims to conserve wildlife resources rather than completely preserve them. It allows the harvest of certain animal populations, so long as the harvest is sustainable. Few species are protected completely. For example, it allows for trade in and harvesting for certain animal products except when those practices threaten the survival of the species. Also, it focuses primarily on animals that are impacted by trade, not those effected by other factors that cause population decline, such as habitat destruction. The whole convention is based off of two master lists. Appendix I, lays out all the species that are completely protected by trade: whales, certain parrot species, primates, and all species of sea turtles are included in this list. CITES determines that harvesting of these animals is an immediate threat to their survival and so trading them is completely outlawed. Appendix II, names the species that can be legally harvested as long as it is safe. These species are not in as much danger of extinction as the Appendix I species, so CITES allows carefully, controlled harvests. Species included in Appendix II include many mammals hunted for their fur, certain reptiles valued for their leather, and most species of cactus. Even though trade of these species is legal, CITES has determined that without regulating this, it could become a survival threat.
           The Endangered Species Act represents a different approach to endangered species management. Where CITES emphasized conservation of species and allowed for safe harvests, the Endangered Species Act preserved endangered species mostly by protecting their natural habitats. The act separates species into three lists, endangered species, threatened species, and candidate species. Endangered species are mostly faced with the possibility of extinction, threatened species are soon to become endangered if proper measures aren’t taken, and candidate species are those that might soon become threatened. The act gives a critical habitat for each endangered and threatened species. Candidate species have no specific protected habitats. Once a particular piece of land is designated as a protected habitat, it is difficult for anybody or organization to touch this land. However, land can be granted which allow protected habitats to be used for other purposes, like power lines for example. These exceptions are usually only made if the proposed developments do not harm or change the habitat. 
            When the Endangered Species Act was first introduced in 1973, it made all invertebrates and plants eligible for protection under the act and also made it illegal to harvest any endangered animal or any threatened animal. However, it was amended several times. In the 1978 amendment, a special board was established to determine whether government agencies were allowed to carry out activities that could harm a species critical habitat. It also added a new stipulation that required economic consideration in the listing of critical habitats. The definition of species was also modified to include only vertebrate animals. An amendment in 1982 determined that economics should play no role and that a listing should be based solely on biological and trade factors. In 1988, a new change was added which prohibited unnecessary destruction of endangered plant species on Federal land. Another amendment was added in 2004, when a section was added which granted exemption from acknowledging critical habitats to the Department of Defense as long as they provide a management plan. All of these amendments have created great change in the act, but this most recent one is probably the most significant. 
          The Endangered Species Act has had its share of successes and flaws. It worked great for endangered species, decent for species listed as threatened, and not very well at all for species listed as candidates. This is mostly due to the fact that the critical habitats of endangered species are heavily protected and those of threatened species are moderately protected, and no critical habitats are established at all for candidate species. The act was changed again when George W. Bush and his administration changed the law. This change made it so that when determining critical habitats for threatened and endangered species, only the current range of the species is considered instead of its former range. Few species are ever actually removed from the endangered species list, since the Endangered Species Act does little to ensure that populations return to a point where they no longer need to be covered under the act. Few species have actually been removed from the endangered species list, including the American Peregrine Falcon by the U.S Fish and Wildlife service. The USFWS also determined that several other species, including the bald eagle, had been recovered and submitted proposals asking that they be delisted. When it comes down to it, the Endangered Species Act seems to be effective at least in preventing extinction, even if it doesn’t always efficiently restore endangered and threatened populations.
       There are definitely a few changes that could have been made to make CITES and the Endangered Species Act to make them more effective. A major line was crossed when Congress extended exemption to the United States Department of Defense in 2004. Now that one department of government is allowed a complete exemption, it seems to be only a matter of time until more and more departments gain this exemption until the law is pretty much pointless. The government should have to live by the rules they set, so this exemption pretty much makes the act pointless. Also, the Endangered Species Act should protect species against other factors that cause population decline like pollution and other human factors. Pollution and other human factors causes significant population declines, but very little is done to stop them. The focus of the Endangered Species Act is pretty narrow when you think about it and should be expanded to include these other factors. The most notable thing to me that needs to be changed is the protection of candidate species. Since there are no established habitats for these species, they continue to decline which depletes the population and eventually puts them on the threatened or endangered lists. There is no question that the Endangered Species Act should provide critical habitats for the candidate species. Another major problem with the Endangered Species Act is the changes pushed through by the Bush administration. Because of these changes, critical habitats are significantly smaller than they should be. The act should be changed back to the way it was to give these species the living space they require to live a healthy life.  The last thing that should be outlawed and stopped completely is the international trade of animal products. This includes furs, ivory, tusks, skins etc. If this is allowed then it is in a way, defeating the purposes of all these acts being passed to preserve species.

Overall, even with their flaws, CITES and the Endangered Species Act definitely benefit endangered species and the planet in general. Even if they don’t always go through with all the promises made and live up to the goals, the thought that these acts/laws exist give us hope that one day sanctions will be added to these laws or new laws will be made to fully protect species and their habitats. With that being said, these acts are still at least somewhat effective in attaining their purpose. Any political act or politically motivated things will have room for debate and change. Even so, these two policies go a long way to improving the problem of human-caused extinction. 

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