PODCASTEnvironmentally Speaking EP 29: The Federal Endangered Species Act

March 31, 20220


What is the Federal Endangered Species Act? This week we talk about how this act works and what it protects. Have you ever been seen signage or other infostructure that states humans cannot go into a particular area like a sand dune? Well, that’s because that area is trying to protect something called a critical habitat for a particular species. We get into more detail about what that means and what organizations play a role in what species falls under who’s jurisdiction and what they do to help.

Transcript: The Federal Endangered Species Act

CLARICE: All righty. Good morning or good afternoon. Whatever time of day it is I hope it’s good for you guys. This is Environmentally Speaking.MARISA: Good morning. It’s 8:07 a.m. for us. I’m Marisa Desautel. I’m an environmental attorney with a few decades of experience.

CLARICE: And in need of some coffee. Good morning.

MARISA: In need of a lot of coffee.

CLARICE: And I’m Clarice. I’m coming at you with questions, comments, topics for the day. I think I’m already on my second cup of coffee, so it might be like an afternoon Clarice for all of our listeners.

MARISA: Oh, man.

CLARICE: A little wide-eyed.

MARISA: Yeah. Hey, so the last episode that you did was with Kate McPherson from Save The Bay.


MARISA: And I was not involved, so it’s good to be back.

CLARICE: It is good to have you back. I may or may not have said that it was a mutiny and I was kicking you out.

MARISA: That’s fine.

CLARICE: Kate was great, though. That was really cool to learn about. I didn’t know Riverkeeper was even a job –

MARISA: Yeah. I didn’t either.

CLARICE: — yeah, until we spoke to Kate and, you know, asked her to come on the show. So thank you again, Kate. That was awesome. Listeners, don’t disappoint. I told her that we would make her a cloak. I don’t know how, but somebody will have to figure that out for us.

MARISA: Wonderful. Yeah. If that episode seems like it was popular, I’ve got ideas about who else to bring in because it’s interesting, I think, to hear from other folks in the same industry because you learn about like what you just with Kate. You had no idea that there was a Riverkeeper, so it’s kind of neat to hear from other people besides myself.

CLARICE: Yeah. So reach out and let us know if that’s something you guys want. We can make it happen. But today is not that day.

MARISA: Today is not that day. Today it’s me again. And in an attempt to not be negative, I thought we could talk about a federal statute that most people are familiar with that has some current and historical success in terms of its implementation and actual results that you can see. The act that I’m talking about is the Federal Endangered Species Act which was promulgated in 1973. Have you heard of it?

CLARICE: Not really. I’ve heard the phrase, but I couldn’t sit and tell you exactly what it covers.

MARISA: Really?

CLARICE: Yeah. Well, I know there are acts to protect endangered species, but other than – like how are we protecting them? Like I don’t fully know what the act outlines.

[0:02:56] MARISA: Have you been to a beach in Rhode Island and seen signage or other infostructure that states humans cannot go into a particular area like a sand dune?

CLARICE: Yes. Yes. And I always laugh because on the beach there are those really tiny little birds that run along the waves. I forget what they’re called.

MARISA: I don’t know.

CLARICE: They’re so adorable. Like sandpiper or something like that.

MARISA: Oh, yeah. Sandpiper, yeah.

CLARICE: And most of them hang out right after that sign, so my husband likes to sit as close to the sign as he can so he can watch all the sandpipers. That’s his jam.

MARISA: Oh. [inaudible]. Generally in Rhode Island when you see those designated areas as being unavailable for human use it’s because it’s trying to protect something called critical habitat for a particular bird species. And in Rhode Island that bird species is known as the piping plover. Have you ever heard of that?

CLARICE: No. It sounds like a very ostentatious bird, a plover.

MARISA: Yeah. Well, it was a threatened species that the government said, we need to step in here and make sure that it’s protected and doesn’t go extinct. And that’s another little tidbit of information, under the Endangered Species Act when you’re talking about a particular species the correct phrase is going extinct which doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense in the English language, but unless you want to sound like a newb when you’re talking about a species that’s threatened you use the phrase it’s going extinct.

So, anyway, this endangered species act that I’m referring to with the piping plover is something, like I said, that was put into place in 1973 because prior to that all we really had was the migratory bird act which didn’t protect other species, number one, and number two, didn’t go far enough to review and provide jurisdiction for the government to conserve and protect endangered and threatened species and their habitats. That’s another critical difference that habitats are protected and considered under the Endangered Species Act.

CLARICE: You said this is a federal act.


CLARICE: It sounds like it’s applying to the piping plover, but it’s not exclusively for the bird?

[0:05:54] MARISA: That’s right. It’s meant to protect various species including fish, wildlife, and plants.

CLARICE: How do they decide what animals get protected? Is it because they have that going extinct distinction that they automatically get qualified?

MARISA: Each species is regulated at the federal level by a different agency. So, for example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains a worldwide list of endangered species and then the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service is another agency that has jurisdiction under the federal law. But in order for the federal government to implement an act, the agencies have to move forward with a process called promulgation of regulations.

So each agency has its own set or – or several sets of regulations and it’s through that regulatory process that the federal agency will come up with process procedures, rules, policies to implement the federal act. In this case let’s take, for example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They, under the Endangered Species Act, went through the regulation promulgation process and put together a set of rules and regulations that carry out the purposes of getting species listed as both threatened and endangered.

CLARICE: So I think you touched on it a little bit, but this federal agency or this federal act, does it need a state connection to become more actionable, or is it kind of beefy enough on its own where it can act in whatever state that animal is applicable or that habitat?

MARISA: The Endangered Species Act is federal only. It doesn’t have necessarily – it doesn’t have a state counterpart. And some of the reason behind that is because – well, there’s several reasons, but the ones that are coming to mind right now are that species are known to be interstate. Birds don’t recognize, oh, I’m in Rhode Island. Oh, I’m in Connecticut. So it makes sense that the federal government would want to help with interstate type of activities that would help to save habitat and the species itself. So, no, there isn’t necessarily a state program.

[0:09:11] CLARICE: And earlier at kind of the start of this episode you had mentioned that it’s something that we can actually see progress on and is something that is, you know, kind of actionable. What does some of that action look like?

MARISA: Well, as part of the program the – again, let’s take the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service as an example. When a species is listed it goes through this process where the experts at that agency will go through the regulatory process to get something listed as threatened. And the idea behind a threatened species distinction is that it gives the government and people time to react to that listing to try to save the species before it actually goes extinct. So if the species is listed as threatened, it’s flagged. This is a problem like the piping plover.

This is a problem we have to go in and save critical habitat, habitat that it needs to feed, forage, reproduce. Once that critical habitat is established, then the government can track the progress of that species and the success you can see is when the government can delist a species or take it off of the threatened species list and say, we’ve done enough conservation and protect here that the species is recovering. So that’s an easy way to see success. Look at when a species was listed and when it was delisted.

CLARICE: Is that happening with some sort of frequency, the fact there are animals regularly being delisted, or is it once in a blue moon and everybody is celebrating?

MARISA: You know, that’s a good question. I don’t know the answer off the top of my head. I know that species get listed and delisted, but in terms of frequency and number I don’t know. I do know that both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other state – or excuse me – federal agencies track progress, so you can go online and look that up and see how a particular species is doing.

CLARICE: Oh, that’s cool. All right.


CLARICE: All right. Is there anything else that we need to know other than the government actually cares a little bit about the birds?

[0:12:04] MARISA: And ants and salamanders.

CLARICE: Yeah, yeah, all of them. But I did Google a picture of a piping plover and good Lord it’s cute.

MARISA: Is it?

CLARICE: It’s the cutest little thing.

MARISA: Well, I think the good news, too, is that even if the species is not cute the government will go in and protect it.

CLARICE: That’s true.

MARISA: So that’s always a good thing.

CLARICE: That is very true. It’s not me picking who stays and who goes.

MARISA: I guess one last thought here has to do with the process that the government goes through to make a determination about whether something is endangered or threatened. It’s not just human influence that can make a species go extinct. There is disease and natural predation by other species that can threaten a particular animal, so the government recognizes that and has the scientific expertise to make a determination about, hey, this species is on the brink of extinction because of disease, or they’re being hunted to extinction. What can we do to assist in that type of scenario, as well. So it’s not just what are humans doing to impact a particular species.

CLARICE: That is an important thing to know, yeah, because I think it’s easy for us to think, okay, if something is going extinct because of human behavior we find an area and limit human interaction. But hearing that they take that additional step to protect against maybe other animals or disease or things like that makes it a little harder to say the least.


CLARICE: All right. So we’ve got good news. Not all the animals are going to die today. We’ve ended on a good note.

MARISA: For once.

CLARICE: It only took us almost 30 episodes.

MARISA: Yeah. Don’t worry. Next week I’ll be back being negative.

CLARICE: So on that note, guys, if you do want to hear about or hear from other people working in environmental fields let us know. Hit us up on Instagram. Send us an e-mail at Help@DesautelESQ.com. And, shoot, if you have a cool environmental job and want to hang out, let us know. On that note, have a good rest of your day.

MARISA: Thanks, Clarice.

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