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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Drawing of a botanical specimen

How do you determine if a species is endangered and who decides what "endangered" means?

Endangered - Natureserve - U.S. Engandered Species Act - IUCN Red List of Threatened Species - The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and FloraThere are several different groups that compile lists of endangered, threatened, or extinct species,and each one has a different process and definition for “endangered” species.

The first step performed by any of these groups is typically a conservation assessment to determine the conservation “status” of a particular species. Conservation assessments are important for two key reasons:

  • They increase our scientific understanding of the species, and
  • They help determine any legal protections for the species.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the oldest and largest global environmental network, produces theIUCN Red List of Threatened Species. All IUCN assessments follow the 2001 IUCN Red List Categories & Criteria (version 3.1). No level of legal protection is provided to species listed in the IUCN Red List.

NatureServe's mission is to provide the scientific basis for effective conservation action within the United States and Canada. Their conservation status rankings complement but do not always coincide with the legal status designations assigned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in administering the U.S. Endangered Species Act. NatureServe status rankings and documentation often form the basis for IUCN Red List threat assessments of U.S. and Canadian plant species. No level of legal protection is provided to species listed.

The U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), provides federal legal protection to threatened and endangered species in the United States. Interested persons can petition and FWS biologists can recommend for a species to be added or removed from the list. But The Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service has the sole authority to place an animal or plant on the Federal list of endangered and threatened species.

Individual states may create their own list of endangered and threatened species. Many of these state-protected species are not be included the national list of endangered and threatened species because they are endangered or threatened within a specific state but not others. Other countries outside of the U.S., such as Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Germany, and Israel, have put laws into place to protect their native endangered and threatened plant species.

Other countries outside of the U.S. have put laws into place to protect their native endangered and threatened plant species. Some examples of these laws are Australia's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) of 1999, Canada's Species at Risk Act (SARA) of 2003, Biodiversity Law of Costa Rica (1992), Cuba's Law 81 of the Environment (1997), Germany's Conservation of Nature and of Landscapes Act (1987), and Israel's Wildlife Protection Law of 1955.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international legal agreement between governments, aiming to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Listings in CITES are made by the member countries every 2-3 years.

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