Species in the Wild
Endangered — An animal or plant species in
danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its
range. Endangered species such as the Mexican long-nosed bat and
the masked bobwhite receive strict protection from harassment,
capture or killing. (Violators face fines up to $50,000 and/or one
year’s imprisonment.) The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (or
NOAA Fisheries) is required to designate "critical habitat" for the
species, and other federal agencies must consult with them before
approving projects, such as logging or gas drilling, that could
adversely affect the species. Private landowners and land-users
cannot alter a listed animal’s habitat in any way that would
harm it. Listed plants are generally protected only on federal
Threatened — An animal or plant species likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Threatened species generally receive the same strict protections as endangered species, but the penalties for violations are substantially less (fines up to $25,000 and/or six months’ imprisonment). The northern spotted owl is threatened throughout its range in the Pacific Northwest, while the marbled murrelet, another bird that nests in old-growth forests, is threatened in California, Oregon and Washington, but not in Alaska.
Essential — An experimental population whose loss
would appreciably reduce the species’ chances for survival in
the wild. Species are released back into their home range and given
the same protection as threatened species, but the government has
flexibility to allow some killing, or "take." The experimental
essential rule has never been used.
Experimental Nonessential — The most
lenient of all endangered species classifications, experimental
nonessential allows the government to release listed species
without most of the usual protections. It is still against the law
to kill most experimental nonessential animals, but land managers
are not required to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service on
actions that might harm the population, and there is no requirement
to protect critical habitat. In recent years, this rule has been
popular with the Fish and Wildlife Service, but it is
controversial. The 1995 experimental nonessential reintroduction of
gray wolves in the Northern Rockies, which allowed ranchers to
shoot animals caught preying on livestock, launched a legal battle
that is still rattling around the courts.
Safe Harbor — The safe harbor rule, introduced in 1995 by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, is designed to ease the pain for private landowners. It encourages ranchers, timber companies and others to manage their land to benefit rare species, but exempts them from new regulations and allows them to continue with practices, such as logging and homebuilding, that might lead to inadvertent killing of the species. As soon as the species crosses onto public land, however, it receives full protection as threatened or endangered. More than three dozen safe harbor agreements are in place, including ones for aplomado falcons in Texas, the Chiracahua leopard frog in Arizona, and the red-cockaded woodpecker in the Southeast.
This story is a sidebar to the feature
The Peregrine Fund has mastered the art of breeding aplomado falcons and other endangered birds of prey, but critics say the organization is blind to the importance of wildlife habitat.