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May 17, 2005
Pombo Releases
Oversight Report on ESA Implementation

Review of agency data shows little evidence of progress in species recovery

Washington, DC - Today Chairman Richard W. Pombo (R-CA) released a report, Implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973, prepared at his request by the House Resources Committee's Oversight & Investigations staff.

"The Endangered Species Act's less than one percent success rate for species recovery is a well-documented and readily-available statistic, but the status of the remaining species on its list has not been as clear until now," Chairman Pombo said. "This exhaustive review of government data makes it clear the vast majority of these species have not improved under implementation of current law."

To complete this undertaking, the staff researched and thoroughly reviewed (1) all Federal Register notices for delisted and downlisted species (2) a decade-worth of agency expenditure reports (3) data from Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries (NMFS) Reports to Congress (4) dozens of critical habitat designation economic impact assessments, agency regulations and recovery plans and (5) discussed implementation of the act with numerous federal, state and local officials. The committee has never conducted such an exhaustive review of ESA implementation before.

"The ESA has not achieved its original intent of recovering species," Pombo continued. "In fact, there is little evidence of progress in the law's 30-year history. After reviewing this body of agency information on the Act's implementation over the years, no reasonable individual can conclude that the ESA is sustainable in its current form. It checks species in, but never checks them out."

Federal agency data highlighted in the report includes:

1. After more than 30 years only 10 of nearly 1300 domestic species have recovered and, in many cases, the ESA was not the primary factor in the recovery. (Report pages 9 - 12)

2. According to the FWS's most recent report to Congress, 77 percent of listed species are classified in the Service's lowest 'recovery achieved' category, having only met 0-25 percent of recovery objectives. Only 2 percent fall into the highest 'recovery achieved' category, having met 76-100 percent of recovery objectives. (Report pages 19-21)

3. According to the FWS's most recent Report to Congress, the recovery status of 60 percent of listed species is either 'uncertain' or 'declining'; 30 percent are classified as stable; 6 percent are classified as improving; and 3 percent (35 species) are classified as possibly extinct.

4. Of the 33 species reclassified by the FWS in the Act's history, only 10 domestic species were downlisted (status from endangered to threatened) because the species had improved. (Report page 12-16)

5. Erroneous data/data error has significantly adversely affected the implementation of the ESA.

  • At least 15 of the 33 domestic species that have been delisted in the Act's history were removed from the list because of original data error/erroneous data. (Report page 8)
  • Erroneous data was a contributing factor in at least 10 of 19 (over 50 percent) of the downlisted domestic species. (Report pages 12-14)
  • Expenditures by federal, state, and private parties on species listed based on erroneous data could total hundreds of millions of dollars. Funds spent on erroneously-listed species could be otherwise directed to species that are actually endangered or threatened. (Report pages 46-51)

6. According to the FWS, in 30 years of implementing the ESA, the service has found that the designation of statutory critical habitat provides little additional protection to most listed species, while consuming significant amounts of conservation resources. The Service's present system for designating critical habitat is driven by litigation rather than biology. (Report page 56)

7. The current program clearly costs billions of dollars, but insufficient economic information is collected to reasonably determine the true cost of the law, as all federal, state, and private expenditure reporting cannot be assessed.

8. Given the Act's poor recovery rate, the pool of future possible additions, current agency species data (77% of species having achieved only 0 to 25% of recovery), litigation demands and conservative consideration of cost data, the current program is not sustainable.

  • In addition to the 1,264 currently listed species, the FWS now recognizes an additional 283 species as candidates for listing. (Report page 29)
  • The FWS' current litigation workload for listing and critical habitat includes (1) 34 active lawsuits with respect to 48 species (2) 40 court orders involving 8 species and (3) 36 notices of intent to sue involving 104 species. (Report page 29, 66-71)

"The ESA is obviously in need of a legislative update that will focus the law on strengthening results for species recovery," Pombo said. "This report will be an invaluable guide as Congress considers the best way to do just that. It has certainly become a question of how we improve this law, not a question of if."

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Click Here to View the Report:
Implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973

 

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