Michael J. Camberlain
Legislation designed to protect specific species dates back to early history in the United States. However, the Endangered Species Act of 1966 was the first piece of legislation specifically addressing species with a threatened or endangered status. In 1973, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was modified to include plants as well as animals. Overall, the ESA authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to determine which wildlife species are facing extinction in the United States. The act also prohibits the importation of endangered species and their products.
The ESA recognizes endangered and threatened species as components of our ecosystem and stresses that integrity of ecosystems hinges on maintaining these species of concern. Threatened and endangered species serve many purposes in our society, such as providing educational, historical and ecological values. The ESA even provides distinction between species that are threatened and endangered. For instance, protection as a threatened species means that the species, according to all the information available, are likely to go extinct. Endangered species are those faced with extinction in all or most of their distribution, requiring complete protection.
One important component of the ESA was that it recognized separate populations and subspecies as individual species, which offered protection for animals such as the Louisiana black bear. For instance, the American black bear is closely related to the Louisiana black bear, but is not threatened in most portions of its current range. On the other hand, the Louisiana black bear is threatened and without proper action has the potential to go extinct. Without the recognition of species status for the Louisiana black bear, no protection would have been afforded.
In many ways the ESA has served as preeminent legislation that has fostered and promoted new understanding and appreciation of many species, as well as providing protection under the laws of the United States.
Michael J. Chamberlain, Assistant Professor, School of Renewable Natural Resources, LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge, La.
(This articles was published in the Spring 2002 issue of the Louisiana Agriculture Magazine.)
The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture