The Company They Keep

The Endangered Species Act (Public Law 93-205) was signed by President Richard Nixon on December 28, 1973. Its purpose was "to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved, and to provide a program for the conservation of such endangered species and threatened species." It was amended in 1978 and 1982, mostly for purposes of clarification.

The Act defined "endangered species "as "any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range." "Any species which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range "was identified as "threatened."

The criteria for determining threatened and endangered species were originally listed as follows: (1) "the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range"; (2) "overutilization for commercial, sporting, scientific, or educational purposes"; (3) "disease or predation"; (4) "the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms"; (5) "other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence."

At present there are more than 1,400 animal and plant species on the list, including Ursus arctos horribilis, which was added to the list on July 28, 1975. More information about the ESA is available from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Recently, efforts have been under way to change—some say weaken—the Endangered Species Act.