Legal classification of species requires scientific and values‐based components, and how those components interact depends on how people frame the decision. Is classification a negotiation of trade‐offs, a decision on how to allocate conservation efforts, or simply a comparison of the biological status of a species to a legal standard? The answers to problem‐framing questions such as these influence decision making in species classifications. In our experience, however, decision makers, staff biologists, and stakeholders often have differing perspectives of the decision problem and assume different framings. In addition to differences between individuals, in some cases it appears individuals themselves are unclear about the decision process, which contributes to regulatory paralysis, litigation, and a loss of trust by agency staff and the public. We present 5 framings: putting species in the right bin, doing right by the species over time, saving the most species on a limited budget, weighing extinction risk against other objectives, and strategic classification to advance conservation. These framings are inspired by elements observed in current classification practices. Putting species in the right bin entails comparing a scientific status assessment with policy thresholds and accounting for potential misclassification costs. Doing right by the species adds a time dimension to the classification decision, and saving the most species on a limited budget classifies a suite of species simultaneously. Weighing extinction risk against other objectives would weigh ecological or socioeconomic concerns in classification decisions, and strategic classification to advance conservation would make negotiation a component of classification. We view these framings as a means to generate thought, discussion, and movement toward selection and application of explicit classification framings. Being explicit about the decision framing could lead decision makers toward more efficient and defensible decisions, reduce internal confusion and external conflict, and support better collaboration between scientists and policy makers.