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Report to the House Committee on Resources
Richard W. Pombo, Chairman
Majority Staff 109th Congress
Implementation of the Endangered Species Act of 1973
This is a 87 page .pdf file that includes in the Appendices the following:
1. Delisted Species Report as of 5/4/05
2. Active Lawsuits: 2/16/05
3. The current FWS listing process – Approximate range of average costs of
4. Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation
5. Table of FWS ESA Actions
6. Maps of California Critical Habitat
There is increasing recognition from most quarters that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) needs to be improved. Exactly what those improvements should be is less
uniform. This report examines the implementation of selected aspects of the endangered species program relying predominately on information provided by the primary
implementing agencies, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and offers some recommendations for possible improvements to the program.
Debate over the ESA has traditionally been highly polarized. For example, compensating landowners for takings or reductions in property value has been opposed
by some who argue updating the law to address this is not necessary. While consensus on other issues such as the need for increasing conservation incentives and the role states play in endangered species conservation has begun to emerge, one of the most debated aspects of ESA implementation continues to be whether the ESA is effectively conserving endangered and threatened species.
While there have been significant strides in conserving individual species such as the whooping crane, red-cockaded woodpecker and gray wolf, few species have been delisted (removed from the endangered list) or downlisted (changed in status from endangered to threatened) because of successful ESA conservation efforts. Some argue that the number of recovered species is an unfair measure, asserting that the three decades the ESA has been in existence is an insufficient amount of time for the lengthy process of species recovery and point to listed species that have not gone extinct as evidence the ESA ‘saves’ species. From the opposing perspective, while recovery to the point of delisting may require a substantial amount of time for many species, after three decades
more progress should be demonstrable through species that have recovered and been delisted. Even if a species has increased in numbers or distribution or the threats facing
the species have been reduced, if it has not been delisted on the basis of recovery, the ESA’s prohibitions and regulations remain applicable and the ESA should not be a ‘one way street.’
Of 40 total species removed from the list, 10 domestic species were delisted because of “recovery”. Of 33 reclassified species, 10 domestic downlistings (a change
from endangered to threatened status) reflected a reduced threat assessment which also allowed more flexibility in management. The FWS’s most recent report to Congress
(Fiscal years 2001-2002) shows that 77 percent of listed species fall in the 0 to 25 percent recovery achieved bracket and 2 percent fall in the 76 to 100 percent recovery achieved
bracket. 39 percent of the FWS managed species are of uncertain status. Of those with an assessed trend, at one end of the spectrum are 3 percent possibly extinct, 1 percent occurring only in captivity and 21 percent declining and at the other end are 30 percent stable and 6 percent improving. These assessments however are subjective. Additionally, the assessment that a species is improving or stable may reflect, for example, a reduction in perceived threats or corrections to inaccurate threat assessments that stemmed from erroneous data rather than actual changes in species’ trends that are demonstrated by improved numbers, distribution or other such measurements. Consequently, a meaningful assessment of conservation trends under the ESA using these data is not possible.
The data used to list a number of species has been subsequently determined to be erroneous and species that likely do not merit classification as endangered or threatened remain listed. This can consume resources that could be directed to species that do merit listing. The assignment of recovery priorities appears highly skewed and the recovery priority for some species seems questionable. A meaningful distinction between
endangered status and threatened status has been blurred as has been the framework for the mechanism of critical habitat. Expenditure reporting has improved but presents an
incomplete picture of financial resources dedicated to endangered species. Workloads for litigation regarding activities such as consultation and listing under the ESA’s complex structure compete for resources that could otherwise be directed at recovery efforts. The demands associated with ESA Section 4 determinations in combination with the pace of species listings and delistings, the number of possible future additions to the list and the
economic impact of listings likely indicate that the current program is not sustainable.
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