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For Immediate Release April 7, 2006

GAO Report Shows Agencies Fail to Plan Adequately for Species Recovery
Lack of planning has led to the ESA's failure to recover species


WASHINGTON - Summarized as "recovery time and costs largely unknown," a new U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released yesterday confirms that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is not working effectively and is in need of reform after more than three decades of implementation without improvements.

The report echoes the U.S. Office of Management and Budget's Not Performing assessment of the ESA.

Following a bipartisan request from several members of the United States House of Representatives and United States Senate, the GAO conducted a review of endangered species recovery plans to determine if they contained several key elements, including the amount of time and money it would take to recover species addressed in each plan. The GAO also reviewed the plans to see if they contained criteria which, when met, would indicate the species status had improved enough that the species no longer needed to be listed as endangered or threatened.


From a statistically significant sample of 107 recovery plans, the GAO found that only 34 plans included an estimated date by which the species would be recovered. GAO found that even fewer plans, 20, included an estimated cost for recovery. Worse yet, the GAO found that 102 of the 107 plans reviewed failed to address all of the factors that are considered when the agencies determine whether or not a species is endangered."


"In more than three decades, the ESA has recovered less than one percent of the thirteen-hundred species on its list," House Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo (R-Calif.) said. "And the prospects for improving this statistic under current law are just as low.  GAO's results reveal one of the reasons for this - when you fail to plan appropriately, you plan to failThis is precisely what has happened under the ESA, and it is tantamount to doing a jig-saw puzzle in the dark or trying to treat a patient without making a thorough diagnosis first."


"If what GAO found was bad, what GAO missed was even worse," Pombo continued. "Although the GAO recommended the obvious - that actions be taken to address the failure of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service to include this critical information in recovery plans - it did not analyze the few plans in its sample that did provide such critical information for their accuracy.  My committee did, and they are not."


To test accuracy (or lack thereof), the Oversight and Investigations staff of the Resources Committee reviewed those few plans that did have estimated costs and recovery projections and compared them with expenditure and recovery program reports the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is required to provide Congress.


Among the Committee's findings: 

  • The plan for the decurrent false aster, a plant, anticipated that the species could be recovered by 1997 for a budget of $58,000. Since the plan was written Federal and state agencies have spent more than $600,000 dollars on the species - more than 10 times the estimated cost in the plan.  Well after the GAO study was initiated, the USFWS announced it will finally review the plant's status.
  • 13 plans included estimated recovery dates that have already passed, but (with one exception) none of the species had been removed from the list or even reduced in status from endangered to threatened.  The Maguire daisy was changed from endangered to the lesser threatened status after it was discovered to be more abundant. In some of these cases the expenditures on the species have been significantly below the plan's estimated cost but in others well over. As in the case of the decurrent false aster, the plan for the least tern anticipated recovery costs of $2,000,000 and that the bird could be delisted 2005. Federal and State agencies have spent over $23,000,000 million on the bird and in its most recent Congressional report the USFWS estimated that the species' status is "unknown" and that it has only achieved somewhere between 0 and 25 percent of its recovery objectives.

To view all Committee findings, click here.

The bipartisan Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act (TESRA), passed by the House this fall, includes several provisions that would remedy the shortcoming revealed by the GAO's analysis.  One such provision establishes official Recovery Teams and requires recovery plans to be produced by a certain deadline, with specific criteriaYet another strengthens the reporting requirements and public accessibility to the information about the endangered species program.

"Bringing the mechanics, incentives and scientific standards of the ESA into the 21st century will give it a chance to work effectively," Pombo said.  "If the U.S. Senate had any doubts about the need to do this, the GAO's findings should clear them up.  Accepting or defending the status-quo for this Act may be politically expedient for some and financially-beneficial to others, but it is unquestionably wrong for endangered species."

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