California Endangered Species Act (CESA)
The California Endangered Species Act (CESA) was passed in 1970 to protect species from decline and extinction. As in the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), species can be designated as threatened or endangered. The CESA protects individual organisms and their habitat, and provides compromise between environmentalist and stakeholder interests. The CESA allows for permitted 'incidental take' of protected species with corresponding endangered species plans. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) encourages stakeholders to utilize Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) and Natural Community Conservation Plans (NCCPs) to address potential impacts on listed species. The CESA was amended in 1984 and 1997.
- 1 CESA Text
- 2 History of Species Protection in California
- 3 Listing Designations
- 4 Species Listed Under CESA
- 5 Petition to List a Species
- 6 Listing Process
- 7 Mechanisms of Enforcement
- 8 Associated Laws and Regulations
- 9 Links
- 10 References
- 11 Disclaimer
"...all native species of fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, invertebrates, and plants, and their habitats, threatened with extinction and those experiencing a significant decline which, if not halted, would lead to a threatened or endangered designation, will be protected or preserved. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife will work with all interested persons, agencies and organizations to protect and preserve such sensitive resources and their habitats." 
History of Species Protection in California
- 1909 Non-game birds became protected
- 1913 Sea otters became protected
- 1957 Fully protected birds and mammals were introduced into Fish and Game Code
- 1970 California Endangered Species Act (CESA) enacted to protect rare and endangered species
- 1970 California Species Preservation Act enacted, criteria developed for "rare" and "endangered" designations, fully protected amphibians, reptiles, and fish introduced to Fish and Game Code
- 1971 The California Fish and Game Commission declared 42 animals endangered or rare
- 1977 Native Plant Protection Act (NPPA) enacted
- 1983 California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) amended to define and protect rare and endangered species
- 1984 The CESA was amended to include the following:
- The classification of "threatened" species replaced the "rare" classification
- The classification "candidate species" was introduced
- Plants were now included as possible listed species
- Incidental take of listed species allowed through memoranda of understanding
- 1997 The CESA was amended to allow incidental take of listed species through Incidental Take Permits (ITPs), Consistency Determinations (CDs) and Voluntary Local Program (VLP)
- 2009 Safe Harbor Agreements introduced to Fish and Game Code 
- 2010 Ambystoma californiense added
- Endangered - a native species or subspecies of an animal or plant in serious danger of becoming extinct throughout all or a significant portion of its range
- Threatened - a native species or subspecies of an animal or plant that is likely to become an endangered species in the future without special protection and management efforts
- Candidate - a native species or subspecies of an animal or plant that is being reviewed by the CDFW to be listed as an endangered or threatened species, or a species for which the FGC has published a notice of proposed to be listed
Species Listed Under CESA
Petition to List a Species
To begin the listing process, a petition to list a species must be submitted to the California Fish and Game Commission (Commission). The process to delist a species is the same as the listing process. A petition to list a species requires sufficient scientific information that a petitioned action may be warranted, which includes:
- The population trend, range, distribution, abundance, and life history of a species
- The factors affecting the ability of the population to survive and reproduce
- The degree and immediacy of the threat
- The impact of existing management efforts
- Suggestions for future management
- Habitat necessary for species survival
- Detailed distribution map
- Other relevant factors for species survival
- The availability and sources of the required information
The CDFW can recommend to the Commission the listing or delisting of a species. If the CDFW makes such a recommendation, it must submit the same information needed for a petition and is treated as a petition with a departmental recommendation.
1. A petition to list a species is received by the Commission.
2. The CDFW then prepares a petition evaluation report.
- This report includes a recommendation on whether the petition contains sufficient scientific information that indicates if the petitioned action is warranted
3. After receiving CDFW’s petition evaluation report, the Commission decides during a public meeting whether the petition will be accepted for consideration.
- If accepted, the species becomes a candidate species, and the CDFW will create a peer-reviewed status report on the species.
4. After the completion of the CDFW’s status report, the Commission must decide at a public meeting whether the petitioned action is warranted.
- If the Commission finds that the petitioned action is not warranted, the process ends, and the species is removed from the list of candidate species.
- If the Commission finds that the petitioned action is warranted, the species is added to the list of threatened or endangered species.
The Commission can bypass the listing process and adopt a regulation that lists a species if an emergency occurs that poses a significant threat to the continued existence of the species.
The Listing Process in Action: The Story of the California Tiger Salamander
The Fish and Game Commission (Commission) received a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity on July 6, 2001 to list the California Tiger Salamander (CTS). The Commission reviewed the petition and determined that it contained sufficient evidence and that the petition should be accepted for a full status evaluation.
The Commission held a meeting on December 7, 2001 to review the petition and decided to reject it. The Commission then published a Notice of Findings on March 1, 2002 to provide the reasons for the rejection. The petition was rejected because:
- The population trend data was based solely on land use trend information without correlating CTS presence to the habitat loss.
- There was no population data presented based on the petitioner’s argument that CTS population numbers are difficult to estimate and amphibians naturally undergo large population fluctuations.
- There was no demonstration of harm or threat based on loss of habitat.
However, the Commission suggested that the petitioner should correct the deficiencies from the Notice of Finding and resubmit the petition for further consideration.
The Commission received the new petition on February 13, 2004. The 2004 petition was submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Defense Center, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club Sonoma Group, Citizens for a Sustainable Cotati, VernalPools.org, Citizens’ Committee to Complete the Refuge, Butte Environmental Center, and Ohlone Audubon Society. Again, the Commission evaluated the petition and determined that petitioned action may be warranted. Then, on October 21, 2004, the Commission voted to reject the petition. Written minutes for the meeting are not available online (pers. comm. J. Snellstrom, CFGC staff), but video of meeting is available at: cal-span.org in addition to the meeting on the following day where the CTS item was addressed again. The Notice of Findings was published on December 24, 2004 and highlighted nearly identical deficiencies from the 2001 petition regarding the population trend, population abundance, and degree and immediacy of threat.
In response to the second rejection, the petitioners submitted a legal challenge. On December 14, 2006, the Sacramento Superior Court overturned the Commission's rejection. The Superior Court indicated that the Commission "ignored or misrepresented the overwhelming scientific evidence showing that the CTS is highly imperiled” and ordered the Commission to accept the petition, declare CTS a candidate species, and proceed with the listing process. The legal battle continued when the Commission filed an appeal to the ruling on February 26, 2007. On September 2, 2008, the Third District of the California Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the Sacramento Superior Court and stated that the Commission should not have rejected the petition and that the petition "clearly afforded sufficient information to indicate that some listing action may be warranted".
The Commission accepted the petition and held a public meeting on February 5, 2009, where it declared CTS a candidate species. Written minutes not available online (pers. comm. J. Snellstrom, CFGC staff), but a video of this meeting is available. The CTS's candidacy process was completed and the CTS was officially listed when the Commission notified the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) on February 20, 2009.
The Delisting of the California Brown Pelican
On May 26, 2006, the Fish and Game Commission (Commission) received a petition from the Endangered Species Recovery Council to delist the California brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis californicus), which at the time was listed as endangered under the CESA. The Commission reviewed the petition for completeness and once it was deemed sufficient, referred the petition to CDFW on June 5, 2006 for evaluation.
The CDFW had a 90-day period to review the petition, but it requested a 30-day extension to complete the evaluation and recommendation, which it received on August 24, 2006. The CDFW found that the information in the petition was sufficient to indicate the petitioned action may be warranted, and made the recommendation that the Commission accept the petition in a memorandum on October 2, 2006. The CDFW made the recommendation to accept the petition based on the the following findings:
- The breeding population size of the brown pelican in the Channel Islands had increased from 1969 to 2006 and exceeded the five-year mean 3,000 pair standard noted in the recovery plan.
- Brown pelican nesting sites had been expanded in the Channel Islands to former breeding sites, and numbers on Santa Barbara Island had substantially increased since 2001.
- Productivity had increased to 0.7 and met or exceeded the five-year mean 0.7 standard noted in the recovery plan for downlisting.
- Brown pelicans at West Anacapa Island had achieved the 2,700 fledgling standard for delisting 9 times from 1997-2005, relative to the five-year mean standard for fledged young in the recovery plan.
- The breeding population of brown pelicans in California increased substantially despite the presence of numerous known threats.
- Brown pelican nesting sites are under generally-protective NPS ownership or management.
At the Commission meeting in Santa Monica on December 7, 2006, the Commission received the Department’s petition evaluation report, recommendation, and public testimony, and accepted the petition. On December 22, 2006, the Commission published a Notice of Findings in the California Regulatory Notice Register declaring the brown pelican a candidate species for delisting, thereby starting the one year status review process. The CDFW prepared a status report on the brown pelican, which can be viewed here.
On October 2, 2008 at the Commission meeting in Santa Rosa, CA, the Commission received the CDFW’s update on the status of the Negative Declaration and was scheduled to receive public testimony on the petition to delist the brown pelican, but there were no public speakers. Public testimony was taken on December 7, 2006 at the Commission meeting in Santa Monica, CA. Additional public input was taken on March 7, 2008 at the Commission meeting in Stockton, CA.
On February 5, 2009, the Commission voted in a public meeting to remove the brown pelican from the California endangered species list.The brown pelican was officially delisted on June 3, 2009 after being listed as a California endangered species for 38 years. The brown pelican is the first special status species to be delisted in California due to having a recovered population (rather than going extinct).
Mechanisms of Enforcement
The main mechanisms used to enforce the CESA are:
- The encouragement of the use of Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs)
- The use of Incidental Take Permits (ITPs)
Associated Laws and Regulations
- Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA)
- California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)
- Natural Community Conservation Planning Act
- California Endangered Species Act http://www.dfg.ca.gov/habcon/cesa/
- History of California's Legislative and Regulatory Actions to Protect Wildlife https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=90061&inline=1
- Report to the Fish And Game Commission a Status Review of the California Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma californiense) January 11, 2010 http://www.elkhornsloughctp.org/uploads/files/1304721618CTS-StatusEvaluation.pdf
- Court Orders California Fish and Game Commission To Consider Imperiled California Tiger Salamander For Listing Under State Endangerd Species Act Dec. 20, 2006 https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/ca-tiger-salamander-12-20-2006.html
- Burkett, E. E., R. J. Logsdon, and K. M. Fien. 2007. Report to the California Fish and Game Commission: Status Review of California Brown Pelican (Pelicanus occidentalis californicus) in California. Calif. Dept. of Fish and Game, Wildlife Branch, Nongame Wildlife Program Report 2007-04. 26pp.+ appendices https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=83830&inline
- State & Federally Listed Endangered & Threatened Animals of California - March 2015 https://www.fwspubs.org/doi/suppl/10.3996/062014-JFWM-048/suppl_file/062014-jfwm-048.s9.pdf
- State of California Fish and Game Commission: Initial Statement of Reasons for Proposed Regulatory Action (Pre-publication of Notice Statement) Amend Section 670.5 Title 14, California Code of Regulations Re: Animals of California Declared to Be Endangered or Threatened http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.390.4164&rep=rep1&type=pdf
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