Most people are familiar with the Endangered Species List which is a document that shows various fish, birds, mammals, and other creatures that are in danger of extermination from the face of the Earth. The lists served the purpose of ensuring that the government would do whatever was necessary to stop this from happening. When the Endangered Species Act was first envisioned, the idea was that creating a piece of federal legislation to prevent the killing of animals that had a severely decreased population would help to revitalize that species and prevent the animal's extinction. What started out as a grassroots campaign from concerned environmentalists and nature conservationists became a subject for political discourse and debate. In the Act of 1973, the policy outlined was that provisions would be made for listing species, as well as for recovery plans and designation of critical habitats would be founded for these species (Endangered 1973). It is somewhat fitting that a topic of such controversy would be put into law by a controversial Commander and Chief. President Richard Millhouse Nixon signed the Endangered Species legislation officially into law on the 28th day of December, 1973. Although the Act itself only came to the foreground of political attention during this era and the decade before it, attempts had been made to create similar types of legislation for nearly a century before that.
Starting in the year 1900, the term extinction became more and more known in American society. Ornithologists George Bird Grinnell and Joel Asaph Allen began writing articles about the near-eradication of the bison and the passenger pigeon (Wiedensaul 2006). The two men noticed that quite a variety of birdlife was slowly disappearing because of hunting, collecting, and the introduction on non-native plants or animals to their habitats. One example of this destruction was the population of the whooping crane which had at one time a large population in the United States. After the intrusion of man, the population of the whooping crane had decreased to less than two dozen birds still living in the wild by the mid-1940s (Whooping 1996). Consequently, when the Endangered Species Act was signed into law, the whooping crane would be one of the first creatures to make the Endangered Species List. The number of whooping cranes has increased dramatically since its placement on the list. Some conservationists have argued that this increase in the whooping crane population can be more attributed to the political actions banning the chemical DDT than acts of preservation in the animals' individual habitats.
The first actual piece of legislation that in any way regulated the animal trade market or indeed dealt with endangered populations was the Lacy Act of 1900. This law made it illegal to transport or sell birds that had been killed in ways that violated state gaming laws. Similar acts, the Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1929 and the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940, all dealt with prohibition of killing certain species because of their low population numbers. It was in the 1960s that the trend of legal actions dealing with animals and nature switched from preservation to those which focused on conservation and resurrection of population. The first and most important of these was the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965 which provided federal moneys to preserve the natural habitats of certain animals. This action made it illegal to further encroach on the protected land which served as habitat for at risk animals. A year later, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act was followed by the Endangered Species Preservation Act. This legislation authorized the government to list endangered species but gave them little power to conserve them. It made federal and state agencies aware of certain species that were in danger without plans to regulate how they would be protected. An amendment was made in 1969 which expanded the Lacey Act of 1900. This amendment expanded the law to not only protect birds, but also prohibit the trade of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, mollusks, and crustaceans.
One of the first successful actions of the Endangered Species Act had to do with cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency to ban the use of the pesticide DDT. Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane or DDT was used as an insecticide on large crops to prevent bugs and birds from damaging the crops (Lear 1997). Instead of preventing the animals or insects from consuming the vegetation, the creatures would often eat the chemical-sprayed food and die from it. Scavenger creatures would eat the poisoned and it would lead to a chain reaction of death and population diminishing. Environmentalists and other scientists had proven that there was a direct correlation between this chemical and the decreased population of many animals, including the American Bald Eagle. After the use of DDT was prohibited, this decrease halted and the bird's population increased exponentially. The same was true of other creatures who had been affected by the DDT being sprayed in and near their food sources and habitats.
In the Endangered Species Act of 1973, some of the vaguer terms were defined within the legal document. The term conserve, for example, was defined as:
the use of all necessary methods and procedures to bring any endangered or threatened species to the point at which the measures under the Act are no longer necessary. This includes, but is not limited to, all activities associated with scientific resources management, such as research, census, law enforcement, habitat acquisition and maintenance, propagation, live trapping, or transplantation, and, in the extraordinary case where population pressures within an ecosystem cannot be otherwise relieved, may include regulated taking (1973).
The term "taking" in this context means the killing of an animal that is currently on the Endangered Species List. Taking a listed animal without a permit or other form of government permission can result in severe financial penalties or even jail time to the perpetrator of the unsanctioned action.
Many non-native plants and animals are directly responsible for the declination of a species. Another cause is the usurpation of natural habitats by private landowners. Oregon State University did a study in the mid-1990s wherein they observed that hatchery production in the Columbus River had expanded below Bonneville Dam to support the fisheries. The population of the coho salmon had subsequently declined significantly. Under the law, only certain animals classify as a population. As defined by NMFS, a population or group of populations may be protected as a species under ESA if it is reproductively isolated from other populations and if it represents an important component in the evolutionary legacy (Waples 1991). The researchers looked at the mitochondrial DNA of different salmon to determine that these were a unique species and not a variation of another type already listed. These techniques would prove useful to later ecologists who were seeking to prove similar arguments.
Among the many amendments and additions with regard to animal protection and conservation, where a series of laws which were designed to protect the habitat of endangered species even if these habitats were on private property. These make it unlawful to remove or exterminate animals that are on the endangered species list. More than half of the habitats of listed animals are on private personal property. These landowners are given moneys from the government to encourage them to do whatever is in their power to embrace and protect the endangered species in question. In addition to these grants, there are laws which would punish those who intentionally destroyed these animals or forced them out of their habitats. However, there are exemptions to these rules. One such example is the "No Surprises" rule which is designed to protect the landowner should unforeseen circumstances occur which would put the animal's habitat in danger through no fault of his or her own.
The Endangered Species Act made it lawful for federal agencies to acquire lands to protect animals' habitats in the event that the landowner was unable or unwilling to comply with their protection. The Land Acquisition portion of the law (ESA §5) stated that the Secretary of Agriculture "is authorized to acquire, by purchase, donation or otherwise, lands, waters or interests therein" (1973). This has been one of the many criticisms of the Endangered Species Act; that it violates some human civil rights in the attempt to preserve the animals under their supervision.
There have been, in fact, many criticisms of the Endangered Species Act since its initial form in 1900. One such criticism, according to Kevin Hill (1993) is that "Conservatives criticize the Act as slow and ineffective while business leaders complain it protects marginal species at the cost of jobs" (page 239). This first point cannot be discounted. It is a fact that some species have become extinct while on the waiting list for inclusion under the Act. The second is among the plethora of issues that critics of the Act point to as reasons that the Act has done more harm than good. In 1992, more than…