Section 3 of the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973 defines endangered species as "those animals or plants with so few individual survivors that the species could soon become extinct over all or most of its natural range." Laws protecting endangered plants exist primarily on the international and U.S. federal levels.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement to protect endangered plants and animals from extinction by limiting or disallowing their trade. The United Nations Environmental Program, a United Nations oversight group, administers the CITES agreement among the 172 CITES member countries. As of early 2010, more than 30,000 species of plants and animals were protected by the agreement. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for implementing CITES in the United States. The U.S. Division of Law Enforcement helps oversee the CITES agreement by inspecting thousands of shipments of flora and fauna that come into the United States annually.
The Endangered Species Act of 1973 was the first legislation to protect endangered plants in the United States. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for implementing the directives of the Endangered Species Act. Under the Act, import and export of endangered plants are outlawed. Receiving, delivering, and selling endangered plants between states, as well as to or from foreign countries are forbidden. The Act also bans confiscation, damage, and destruction of endangered plants on federally owned property.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Besides being charged with the duties listed above, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for placing species on the list of threatened and endangered species, and developing recovery reports, which detail the specific tasks needed to recover each endangered species. The Service can grant permits to allow exceptions to the laws for purposes of scientific study or to enhance the reproduction or continued existence of the species. The Service is also empowered to determine civil and criminal penalties for breaching any portion of the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Thirty-two U.S. states have state laws that protect endangered plants and animals, while 18 states have none. All state laws delegate the job of maintaining a list of endangered plants in their states to a state agency; however, only a few states have allocated habitats for endangered plants or require recovery plans to be developed for plants in jeopardy of extinction.
According to ecology experts David S. Wilcove and Lawrence L. Master, "Only about 15 percent of the known species in the United States have been studied in sufficient detail to determine whether or not they are imperiled.... We review the best available data on the status of plants, animals, and fungi in the U.S. and conclude that the actual number of known species threatened with extinction is at least ten times greater than the number protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)."