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The Endangered Species Act: A Primer

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Publication Date: August 2007

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL31654

Topic: Environment (Animals)

Abstract:

The Endangered Species Act protects species identified as endangered or threatened with extinction and attempts to protect the habitat on which they depend. It is administered primarily by the Fish and Wildlife Service and also by the National Marine Fisheries Service for certain marine and anadromous species. Dwindling species are listed as either endangered or threatened according to assessments of the risk of their extinction. Once a species is listed, legal tools are available to aid its recovery and to protect its habitat. The ESA can become the visible focal point for underlying situations involving the allocation of scarce or diminishing lands or resources, especially in instances where societal values may be changing, such as for the forests of the Pacific Northwest and the waters in the Klamath River Basin. This report discusses the major provisions of the ESA, both domestic and international, and also discusses some of the background issues, such as extinction in general, and the effectiveness of the statute.

An amplified discussion is provided on four aspects of the ESA and its implementation that have raised concerns and promoted debate -- listing species, designating critical habitat, consulting on projects, and exempting projects. This report provides much of the issue context for understanding individual legislative initiatives discussed in CRS Report RL33779, The Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the 110th Congress: Conflicting Values and Difficult Choices. This report will be updated as circumstances warrant.