Various species of fish, wildlife, and plants in the United States have been rendered endangered and some even extinct as a consequence of economic growth and development without adequate concern and conservation of the environment.
The Endangered Species Act provides a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered and threatened species thrive may be conserved. The Act recommends providing a program for the conservation of such endangered species and to take such steps as may be appropriate to achieve the purposes of international treaties and conventions. The Act further declares that all Federal departments and agencies shall seek to conserve endangered species. However, the Act is administered by two federal agencies, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (which includes the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS). NOAA handles marine species, and the FWS has responsibility over freshwater fish and all other species. Species that occur in both habitats (e.g. sea turtles and Atlantic sturgeon) are jointly managed.
The Act authorizes these agencies to determine and designate species as endangered or threatened. If a species is desiganted as endangered or threatened, the habitat of such species must be protected. That habitat is then considered to be critical habitat. NOAA and/or FWS may revise such designations from time-to-time.
The Act prohibits possession, sale, and transport of endangered species. The Act also allows for the acquisition of land for the conservation of listed species by using land and water conservation funds.
State agencies may establish acceptable conservation programs, consistent with the purposes and policies of this Act, for all resident species of plants in the State which are endangered or threatened. The Act provides for aid to states which carry out such programs. The Endangered Species Act also discusses civil and criminal penalties for violating the Act.
As a demonstration of the commitment of the United States to the worldwide protection of endangered and threatened species the U.S. may assign or otherwise make available any officer or employee of the department for the purpose of cooperating with foreign countries and international organizations in developing personnel resources and programs which promote the conservation of fish, wildlife or plants.