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by Abby Gates

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was passed in 1973, establishing legislation designed to protect the existence of species that are facing potential extinction. A total of 1,491 species are currently listed in the United States, and the harm of any of these species is grounds for fines and penalties. Unintentional or accidental harm may fall on a species if its existence in an area is unknown, which could lead to problems for the private landowner. The presence of a listed species could be seen as a problem, but more appropriately should be viewed as an opportunity to be embraced.

Bullrushes or Typha latifolia, close upThe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service are in charge of administering the ESA. All species, including plants and animals, have the potential to be listed as endangered or threatened, with the exception of pest insects. An “endangered” status means the species is in immediate danger of extinction, whereas a “threatened” status means the species is likely to become endangered in the near future. Species can also be designated as “candidate” species, which have enough evidence to permit them for listing, but have not yet been officially listed.

There are five factors that are considered with assessing a species’ potential for listing: (1) damage/destruction of habitat, (2) overharvesting for any purpose, including commercial, recreational, scientific or educational purposes, (3) disease and predation, (4) state of current protection measures, (5) other factors, whether natural or manmade, that may affect the species.

When a species is listed under the Endangered Species Act upon the consideration of these five factors, the species is granted special protections by the act. The ESA strictly prohibits the “take” of any of the listed species. The term “take” includes a variety of activities, and fundamentally means to “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect or attempt to engage in any such conduct,” and includes the trade of listed animals or their products. This also includes any activity that destroys or fragments the species’ habitat, as this can significantly impact the species’ longevity. These prohibited activities are only allowed under Federal permits, which are issued for scientific purposes, such as conservation.

While the ESA grants strict protections to listed species, the goal of the ESA is to promote the recovery of listed species. This is a difficult task, and the protection and promotion of recovery of listed species requires a collective effort. The ESA requires that Federal organizations use their authorities to promote the ESA’s efforts, and states are encouraged to develop conservation programs for listed species. About two-thirds of listed species have some habitat on privately owned land, however, making it essential that private landowners also be involved in their protection.

This is where the Endangered Species Act may enter the lives of equine landowners. The presence of a listed species requires important consideration when making plans to build or otherwise alter your property, as development may negatively impact the species’ survival in various ways. Harm caused to listed species, even if it is unintentional, can be grounds for severe fines and repercussions. Further information on the presence of listed species in your area can be found by speaking with your local agricultural extension agent.

The National Historic Landmarks Program is a Federal program that works to preserve properties that possess importance to American history. This program maintains the National Register of Historic Places, a database of historic sites, which was created by the National Historic Preservation Act. The National Historic Preservation Act was enacted in 1966 for the purpose of locating and identifying districts, sites, buildings or other structures that have historical significance. It also created the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, a committee responsible for advising the President and Congress about historic preservation issues and advocating for resources to be directed to the completion of historic preservation goals. Additionally, it created the Historic Preservation Fund, which provides grants to states and local government for their preservation projects.

Just as being aware of the presence of endangered species in your area, it is also important to be aware of historic sites in your area or on your property, or sites that may have the potential to be surveyed and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Many farms are steeped in history, and structures on the farms, or the farm as a whole, may possess potential to be listed.