The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.s. Fish and Wildlife Service have proposed a new federal policy proposed to help clarify which species or populations of species are eligible for protection under the Endangered Species Act.  The Services’ notice of the proposed change explains:

“The policy would clarify that the FWS and NOAA Fisheries could list a species if it is endangered or threatened in a ‘significant portion of its range,’ even if that species is not endangered or threatened throughout all its range. Under the proposed policy, a portion of the range of any given species would be defined as “significant” if its contribution to the viability of the species is so important that, without that portion, the species would be in danger of extinction. While the services expect this circumstance to arise infrequently, this policy interpretation will allow ESA protections to help species in trouble before large-scale decline occurs throughout the species’ entire range.”


“Today’s proposal requires that if a species is found to be threatened or endangered in a significant portion of its range, the entire species must be listed and protections of the ESA applied throughout its range. However, if the significant portion of the range is the exact same area inhabited by a ‘distinct population segment’ of the species, only the distinct population segment would be listed. A distinct population segment is a vertebrate animal population or group of populations that is discrete from other populations of the species and significant to the overall species.”

Under the Services’ previous ESA policy:

“only individuals of a species found within the ‘significant portion of its range’ were protected under the ESA. Today’s proposed policy also establishes a more specific and stringent standard to evaluate whether a portion of a species’ range would be considered ‘significant’ than the standard applied under the M-Opinion interpretation. This higher bar will ensure that the species being evaluated for ESA protection on the basis of threats to only a significant portion of its range are truly in need of conservation.”

Comments are due to NMFS by February 7, 2012.

Click here to read NMFS’ notice and request for comment