Endangered Species Act: Many GAO Recommendations Have Been Implemented, but Some Issues Remain Unresolved
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 protects plant and animal species that are either facing extinction (endangered species) or are likely to face extinction in the foreseeable future (threatened species) and protects the ecosystems upon which they depend. The act includes provisions for listing species that need protection, designating habitat deemed critical to a listed species’ survival, developing recovery plans, and protecting listed species against certain harms caused by federal and nonfederal actions. Since the act’s inception, more than 1,300 species occurring in the United States or its territories have been placed on the list of threatened and endangered species. The Department of the Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Department of Commerce’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)—collectively referred to as “the services”—are responsible for administration and implementation of the ESA, but all federal agencies have responsibilities for protecting species under the act. A Government Accountability Office report issued in December of 2008 finds that almost one-third of GAO recommendations issued over the last 10 years to strengthen implementation of the act have not been implemented.
Specifically, FWS has yet to clarify the role of critical habitat and how and when it should be designated, as recommended in 2002 and 2003. The critical habitat process has been the subject of significant litigation, largely due to FWS not designating habitat when required, and has consumed significant program resources. FWS has drafted a policy document that is going through departmental review, and, in 2006, the service convened a team to provide recommendations to the Secretary of the Interior regarding changes to the regulations implementing the act. FWS does not expect the policy or regulations to be final until the spring of 2009 or later. Delays have been caused by higher-priority work; court decisions, including adverse rulings; and other policy decisions. FWS has not issued annual endangered species expenditure reports in a timely fashion, as recommended in 2003. Reports for fiscal years 2005 and 2006 were issued in December 2008; the report for expenditures in fiscal year 2007 is expected to be issued in early 2009. An FWS official stated that FWS has issued these reports late because of delays in receiving data from some states, but that the agency is implementing a new process to improve their timeliness in issuing future reports.
Click here to download and read the complete report: Endangered Species Act: Many GAO Recommendations Have Been Implemented, but Some Issues Remain Unresolved