411 on The Endangered Species Act


So we have all heard that the polar bear was listed as “threatened” on the Endangered Species list but what does that mean? How does an animal get on the list? What does being on the list mean?

The Endangered Species Act was enacted in 1973 during Nixon’s administration and was widely accepted by the American people. The goal of the legislation was to protect the biological diversity of the planet. There were no ifs and or buts about it when the law was written any thing could be protected by this law even if it was considered a predator. In theory, environmentalist and those who do not like the law agree it protects animals (and flora and fauna, which are also protected) over humans. Interestingly, there is a clause in the act that allows citizens to sue the government to enforce the law.

History of how many animals ended up on the list for the last 5 presidential administrations:

  • George W. Bush            protected 60 species
  • Bill Clinton                   protected 522 species
  • George Bush (1 term)   protected 231 species
  • Ronald Regan              protected 255 species
  • Jimmy Carter               protected 126 species

How does an animal get on the list?

Petitions are written and submitted to the Department of the Interior (DOI) or the DOI can put a species on the list they feel is endangered without needing a petition from the people. The law states that they must respond to a petition within 90 days. If the department decides that it needs more time for research to be conducted there is an additional year extension. Many times in recent years it has taken much longer to get approval or a decision.

The polar bear petition was filed on February 16, 2005 (the anniversary of the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in other countries). The decision to add the polar bear to make it “threatened” did not come until after a court order required the administration to issue a decision on May 15, 2008. It is important to note that many environmentalist argue that the administration waited so long to issue a ruling so that the sale of 29.4 million acres in the Chuhch Sea would not be affected (which went through in early 2008).

What does being on the list mean?

The government is required to define, designate, and preserve the animals habitat so that the species can survive. The government also needs to proactive in figuring out ways to keep the species alive and growing this plan is called a “Recovery Plan.”

What is the difference in being classified as “endangered” or “threatened”?

Endangered species are closer to extinction and generally the plans to save them are more involved. Threatened species are ones that still have a good sized populations but are at serious risk of diminishing quickly.

If you want to see what is on the list here is a link to search the list:


Here is a fact sheet about polar bears:



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