Species Protection Basics
In 1973, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate approved legislation that President Nixon signed into law as the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to protect and recover imperiled species and the habitats upon which they depend. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries administer the ESA. The USFWS has primary responsibility for terrestrial and freshwater organisms, while the responsibilities of NMFS are mainly marine wildlife. Texas established state-level protections for native animals and plants in 1975 and 1988 respectivley.
U.S. Endangered Species Act
Endangered, Threatened, and Candidate Species
Under the ESA, species may be listed as either endangered or threatened (Federal Listing Petition Process). Endangered means a species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Threatened means a species is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future. The USFWS also maintains a list of candidate species (Federal Candidate Review Process). These are species for which the USFWS has enough information to warrant proposing them for listing but is precluded from doing so by higher listing priorities.
The ESA requires species to be listed as endangered or threatened solely on the basis of their biological status and threats to their existence. When evaluating a species for listing, the USFWS considers five factors:
- Damage to, or destruction of, a species’ habitat
- Overutilization of the species for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes
- Disease or predation
- Inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms
- Other natural or manmade factors that affect the continued existence of the species
When one or more of these factors imperils the survival of a species, the USFWS takes action to protect it. The USFWS is required to base its listing decisions on the best scientific information available (Federal Threatened and Endangered Listing).
Protection and Take
The ESA protects endangered and threatened species and their habitats by prohibiting the “take” of listed animals and the interstate or international trade in listed plants and animals, including their parts and products, except under federal permit. It is unlawful for a person to take a listed animal without a permit. Take is defined as “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect or attempt to engage in any such conduct." Through regulations, the term "harm" is defined as "an act which actually kills or injures wildlife. Such an act may include significant habitat modification or degradation where it actually kills or injures wildlife by significantly impairing essential behavioral patterns, including breeding, feeding, or sheltering." Listed plants are not protected from take, although it is illegal to collect or maliciously harm them on federal land. Protection from commercial trade and the effects of federal actions do apply for plants.
The ultimate goal of the ESA is to recover species so they no longer need protection. Recovery plans describe the steps needed to restore a species to ecological health. USFWS biologists write and implement these plans with the assistance of species experts, other federal, state, and local agencies, tribes, non-governmental organizations; academia, and other stakeholders.
The ESA requires the designation of critical habitat for listed species when prudent and determinable (Listing and Critical Habitat). Critical habitat includes geographic areas that contain the physical or biological features that are essential to the conservation of the species and that may need special management or protection. Critical habitat designations affect only federal agency actions or federally funded or permitted activities. Federal agencies are required to avoid destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat.
Critical habitat may include areas that are not occupied by the species at the time of listing but are essential to its conservation. An area can be excluded from critical habitat designation if an economic analysis determines that the benefits of excluding it outweigh the benefits of including it, unless failure to designate the area as critical habitat may lead to extinction of the listed species.
Texas Threatened and Endangered Species Protections
The Texas legislature has authorized regulations pertaining to the management, regulation, and protection of native animals listed as state threatened or endangered.
- Endangered animal species: Species of fish or wildlife indigenous to Texas are endangered if listed on the United States List of Endangered Native Fish and Wildlife or the list of fish or wildlife threatened with statewide extinction as filed by the director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD).
- Threatened animal species: Any species that TPWD has determined is likely to become endangered in the future.
- No person may capture, trap, take, or kill, or attempt to capture, trap, take, or kill, threatened or endangered fish or wildlife.
Details concerning state endangered or threatened animal species are contained in Chapters 67 (Nongame Species) and 68 (Endangered Species) of the Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW) Code and Sections 65.171 - 65.176 (Threatened and Endangered Nongame Species) of Title 31 of the Texas Administrative Code (T.A.C.).
The Texas legislature has authorized regulations pertaining to the management, regulation, and protection of native plants listed as state threatened or endangered.
- Endangered plant species: A species of plant life that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.
- Threatened plant species: A species of plant life that is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.
- Except as provided in TPW Code Chapter 88, no person may: (1) take, possess, transport, or sell an endangered, threatened, or protected native plant from the public lands of this state unless that person possesses a valid scientific plant permit authorizing such activity or (2) take, possess, transport, or sell an endangered, threatened, or protected native plant for commercial purposes from private lands unless that person possesses a valid commercial plant permit authorizing such activity.
Details concerning endangered or threatened plant species are contained in Chapter 88 (Endangered Plants) of the TPW Code and Sections 69.01 - 69.9 (Endangered, Threatened, and Protected Native Plants) of the T.A.C.
TPWD regulations prohibit the taking, possession, transportation, or sale of any of the animal species designated by state law as endangered or threatened without the issuance of a permit. State laws and regulations prohibit commerce in threatened and endangered plants and the collection of listed plant species from public land without a permit issued by TPWD. In addition, some species listed as threatened or endangered under state law are also listed under federal regulations.
Research, Listing, and Recovery
Listing and recovery of threatened/endangered amphibian, bird, invertebrate, mammal, plant, and reptile species in Texas is coordinated by TPWD's Wildlife Diversity Program. For permits regarding state listed species, contact Wildlife Diversity Permits.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Inland Fisheries and Coastal Fisheries Divisions maintain purview over state listed fish species. Inquiries about threatened/endangered fish species should be directed to those TPWD Divisions.