Endangered Species

The Federal Endangered Species Act: How it works in Maine

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is responsible for administering the Endangered Species Act (ESA), along with partner agencies when appropriate.

The following are answers to frequently asked questions about how the Federal Endangered Species Act works in Maine.

How is a species added to the list?

Listing species is one of the basic functions performed by the USFWS in carrying out the functions of the Endangered Species Act.

In order to list, reclassify, or delist a species, the USFWS must follow a strict legal process known as “rulemaking. Each species under consideration must meet specific scientific criteria in order to be added to the list.

How does the Service decide which species to list?

The USFWS has developed a priority system to direct its efforts toward the animals in greatest need of protection.

The magnitude of the threat is the most important criterion followed by the immediacy of the threat and the taxonomic distinctiveness (most distinctive being monotypic genus, then full species and lastly a subspecies, variety, or vertebrate population).

Who decides what is needed to recover a species?

All decisions are based on a Recovery Plan. Recovery plans may be written by biologists within the USFWS with expertise from others, or by a Recovery Team. Since 1994, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt has directed a policy that significantly expands participation on Recovery Teams to include all stakeholders (state agencies, private organizations and citizens affected by the recovery efforts). The team works together to develop and implement the plan. In addition, Congress provides money for recovery plans.

Does the ESA block development to protect endangered species?

All federal agencies must consult with USFWS when any activity authorized, funded or carried out by that agency may affect a listed species or critical habitat (called Section 7). For example: federal permits are needed under the Clean Water Act for wetland filling or alterations, stream alterations, dredging of marine environments and disposal of dredged materials, discharge of materials into federal waters, as well as placement of structures in navigable waters such as acquacultural facilities.

During 1999, USFWS granted 656 permits for projects in Maine. Fewer than 20 included endangered species issues which were resolved during informal consultations and only 1 went to formal consultation. All projects went forward and were permitted. The one formal consultation was the Wells Harbor project, which was also approved.

For the Northeast Region, which includes 6 states, the USFWS conducted 742 informal consultations where endangered species were present from 1994 to 1998. Of these only 9 proceeded to formal consultations, most of which involved the bald eagle. Again, all projects were approved.

During the entire history of the Endangered Species Act in Maine, only 2 cases eventually lead the USFWS to issue a jeopardy decision, which indicated the activity would threaten the existence of the entire population of an endangered species. One was the Dickey-Lincoln dam on the St. John River (to protect the Furbish lousewort) and the other dealt with bald eagles and a proposed oil refinery in Eastport.

Do we need to protect species if they are on the edge of their range?

The federal Endangered Species Act was passed to protect the biodiversity within our borders, recognizing we cannot control the actions of other governments. Arguing that a species is more numerous elsewhere and therefore does not need to be protected at the edge of the range would relieve us of protecting anything but our most common species; species whose core habitat is within our borders or only specialist species within our political boundaries.

If we decide not to protect species at the edge of their range, we can expect continual shrinking ranges of rare species and extinction for most of our rare species. Shrinking ranges are often at the core of a listing proposal under both federal and state endangered species acts. Indeed, Maine’s ESA includes 34 species, of which over half (18) are considered at the edge of their range. Some examples include Atlantic puffins, least tern, northern bog lemming and Blanding’s turtle.

What benefits are gained by listing?

Ability to leverage more funds to implement the conservation plan. Funds are appropriated based on priorities and listed species are better able to compete for these limited funds.
Allows Conservation Plan to be stronger by involving all stakeholders.

Additional Information