Endangered Species Act
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 was intended to protect species which were threatened by extinction. It is jointly administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which manages freshwater and land species, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which manages marine species.
Under the ESA, a species must meet one of the following five criteria to be considered for protection and listing, found in Section (4)(a)(1) of the Act:
The species in question must have
• (A) the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat
• or range;
• (B) overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes;
• (C) disease or predation;
• (D) the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms;
• (E) other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence.
However, even when a species clearly meets the criteria for protection, it might not be covered, reports Sign On San Diego. The Hermes copper, a rare butterfly found in southwest San Diego County, is an example. A subject of concern since 1980, the Hermes copper relies on a specific host plant to lay its eggs. This plant, along with much of the sage scrub community, has been in decline. As a result, over half of the known Hermes copper butterfly populations have been lost. Despite these obvious threats, the butterfly was not placed on the protected species list. Jane Hendron , a spokeswoman from FWS, blames the result on a lack of funds:
“It has nothing to do with (whether) there is room on the list,” she said. “It has everything to do with higher priority actions that we are required to take because we have court orders. We have limited funds.” Indeed, the FWS has only $22 million dollars to work with for endangered species listings.
Some groups have become so frustrated with inaction that they have resorted to legal measures. Along with five other conservation groups, the Center for Biological Diversity recently filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The groups allege that the FWS failed to respond to a 2010 petition which sought protection for 403 species in the southeastern United States waterways. The Endangered Species Act requires the FWS to determine the validity of any petition within 90 days and to render a decision on species protection within one year.
Unfortunately, incidents such as the Hermes butterfly decision and the southeastern species petition are only going to become more common unless funding and support for the FWS and endangered species increases.