Endangered Species Q and A

Get fast answers to common questions about Missouri's endangered species on private property.

Q. What is an endangered or threatened species?

There are two laws that protect endangered and threatened species: the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Wildlife Code of Missouri (the Code).

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is responsible for administering the ESA. Under this law, an endangered species is one that is likely to become extinct, and a threatened species is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.

The Missouri Department of Conservation administers the Code, which lists endangered species only. All federal species listed as threatened or endangered are listed as state endangered in the Code. In addition, Department staff may add other species on the state-endangered list to the Code if the survival of those species is in jeopardy within the state.

Q. What happens if I find an endangered species on my land?

This depends on whether the species is a plant or an animal.

An endangered or threatened plant on private property belongs to the landowner, and it can be allowed to grow, be maintained, or be destroyed. The laws are only in effect when listed plants on private property are moved, sold, traded, or transported. In addition, if you use federal funds to develop your land (for example, apply for a federal loan to build a poultry barn) and the activity is likely to harm the plant, then the federal agency must ensure that federal funds are not being used to destroy a federally listed plant. If you are using private money, there is no such requirement.

An endangered or threatened animal on private land is a public resource. Individual animals cannot be "taken" except as allowed under the ESA or the Code. A federally listed endangered animal on private land is fully protected, and killing the animal or destroying its habitat is a violation of the ESA. Species listed as federally threatened may have some exceptions that allow “take” under certain conditions. Under the Code, individuals of those species listed as state-endangered cannot be taken (harmed, harassed, killed, transported, sold, bartered, and so on), but their habitat is not protected.

Q. Can I wait until the animal is gone and then destroy the habitat?

Under the Code, the answer is yes. However, if the species is federally listed, the answer is, “it depends.” In general, if the species is migratory and likely to return to the same area, then “take of habitat” (destruction) is prohibited under the ESA. If the species has permanently left the area and the habitat is no longer used by the listed species, then destruction of the habitat may be allowed. To best determine the answer for your situation, contact the USFWS in Columbia, Missouri, at 573-234-2132, or visit their website listed under External Links below.

In brief ...

  • Killing an endangered or threatened plant on federal land is unlawful. Killing an endangered or threatened plant on private property is not a violation of endangered species law.
  • Killing an endangered or threatened animal is a violation of federal and state laws regardless of where it occurs, unless covered by permit.
  • If you are concerned about an endangered species on your land, please call your private land conservationist. He or she can help you find ways to achieve your management goals while conserving the endangered species.

Q. Have any Missouri landowners lost their property because of the presence of an endangered species?

Never.

However, willing sellers have sold property supporting endangered species to the Department or to USFWS. Other land has been donated, but land acquisition goals for some endangered species have not been reached because there are no willing sellers. With only 7 percent of Missouri managed as public land, most endangered species populations will remain on private land.

Q. How many endangered species are there in Missouri?

This number frequently changes. For the most up-to-date list of species, browse the Missouri Species and Communities of Conservation Concern Checklist, or visit the Federally Endangered Species in Missouri website under External Links below.

Q. Why are endangered species important?

Because every species plays a role in running its local ecosystem, every species counts. As native species disappear, pest species multiply, flooding and erosion begin, water becomes polluted and so on. Rich natural diversity yields medicinal solutions, food for people, food for other wildlife, watchable wildlife, genetic resilience and long-term sustainability. Many endangered species, including pallid sturgeons and cavefish, are indicators of the health of the big river system and groundwater quality. As species decline, they are an indication that the habitat of the species is declining as well.

Q. How can I help conserve Missouri’s endangered species?

  • If your land lies within a Special Cost-Share Opportunity Area, get in touch with that area’s coordinator. These special areas have the most potential for conserving all Missouri wildlife, and may be eligible for professional technical support and priority funding.
  • If you’re planning a construction project on your land, contact the Missouri Department of Conservation before you begin to learn if your activities will likely harm a state endangered species (573-522-4115).
  • Report violations of conservation laws.
  • Avoid using unnecessary lawn and garden chemicals, improperly disposing of household chemicals, and causing water pollution or erosion of any kind.
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