By Amy M. Armstrong
The Endangered Species Act -- designed to protect "critically imperiled species" from extinction -- was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1973. This landmark legislation represented the first comprehensive federal action for protecting plants and animals whose populations were jeopardized. It came after more than a half century of environmental activism calling for federal action after the near extinction of buffalo and the disappearance of the passenger pigeon in the early 1900s.
How It Is Administered
The Endangered Species Act is administered by two federal agencies -- the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. FWS is responsible for all freshwater fish and all other species. NMFS is responsible for marine species. Species that occur in both fresh and marine water, such as sea turtles and Atlantic sturgeon, are managed jointly.
While the Endangered Species Act was the first complete federal legislation creating the process by which any jeopardized species could be protected, it owes its origins to other previous, yet incomplete, federal legislation. The Lacey Act of 1900 prohibited interstate commerce of animals killed in violation of state game laws. It is now a part of the Farm Bill covering all fish, wildlife and plants. The Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1929 and the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940 took steps toward protecting birds. In 1966, the Endangered Species Preservation Act allowing for the listing of U.S. native animal species as endangered. It gave the Secretary of the Interior purchasing power to buy habitat lands -- a key move forward in protecting species, according to the Thoreau Institute. Foreign species were added to the ESPA in 1969 in an effort to protect whales and a new series of marine animals were added to protection afforded under the Lacey Act. Intense political pressure from environmental activists spurred Nixon to instruct congress to write a comprehensive endangered species act that would outline the qualifications for protection and what actions the federal government would take. More....