The Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the 109th Congress: Conflicting Values and Difficult Choices
The Endangered Species Act (ESA)
in the 109 Congress:
Conflicting Values and Difficult Choices
Updated January 4, 2007
Eugene H. Buck and M. Lynne Corn
Specialists in Natural Resources Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Pervaze A. Sheikh
Analyst in Environmental and Natural Resources Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
American Law Division
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the 109
Congress: Conflicting Values and Difficult Choices
The 109th Congress considered numerous proposals to amend the Endangered
Species Act (ESA; P.L. 93-205, 16 U.S.C. §§1531-1543). Major issues in recent
years have included changing the role of science in decision-making, modifying
critical habitat (CH) procedures, incorporating further protection and incentives for
property owners, and increasing protection of listed species, among others. In
addition, many have advocated enacting as law some ESA regulations promulgated
during the Clinton Administration.
The ESA has been one of the more contentious environmental laws. This may
stem from its strict substantive provisions, which can affect the use of both federal
and nonfederal lands and resources. Under the ESA, species of plants and animals
(both vertebrate and invertebrate) can be listed as endangered or threatened
according to assessments of their risk of extinction. Once a species is listed,
powerful legal tools are available to aid its recovery and protect its habitat. The ESA
may also be controversial because dwindling species are usually harbingers of
broader ecosystem decline: the most common cause of listing species is habitat loss.
The authorization for spending under the ESA expired on October 1, 1992. The
prohibitions and requirements of the ESA remain in force, even in the absence of an
authorization, and funds have been appropriated to implement the administrative
provisions of the ESA in each subsequent fiscal year. In the 109th Congress, H.R.
3824 and S. 2110 proposed to extensively amend and reauthorize the ESA; the House
passed H.R. 3824 (amended) on September 29, 2005. Proponents of both bills
argued that they were designed to make the ESA more effective by redefining the
relationship between private and public property uses and species protection,
implementing new incentives for species conservation, and removing what some see
as undue land use restrictions. However, critics argued that proposed changes created
gaps in the ESA safety net of protections and prohibitions.
The 109th Congress enacted legislation that (1) established a pilot project in
Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico to better coordinate
consultations and the preparation of biological opinions under ESA §7 (P.L. 109-58);
(2) authorized certain activities related to the Middle Rio Grande Endangered Species
Collaborative Program (P.L. 109-103); (3) reauthorized Upper Colorado and San
Juan River Basin endangered fish recovery programs (P.L. 109-183); (4) expanded
a Hawaiian National Wildlife Refuge to protect habitat for endangered waterbirds
(P.L. 109-225); (5) expanded the authority of the Secretary of the Interior to assist
private landowners in restoring, enhancing, and managing endangered and threatened
species habitat on private land through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program
(P.L. 109-294); (6) reauthorized and amended the Neotropical Migratory Bird
Conservation Act and the Great Ape Conservation Act of 2000 (P.L. 109-363); and
(7) established programs to manage marine debris and address its adverse effects on
endangered species (P.L. 109-449). This report also identifies additional bills that
were introduced in the 109th Congress to address specific concerns related to how the
ESA is implemented and how endangered species are managed.
Most Recent Developments..........................................1
Background and Analysis...........................................1
Major Provisions of Domestic Law................................2
Prohibitions and Penalties...................................4
Permits and Consultation....................................4
Land Acquisition and Cooperation............................6
Major Provisions of International Law.............................6
Is Species Protection and Restoration Working?......................7
Issues in the 109th Congress..........................................9
Critical Habitat Designation.....................................9
“Sound Science” and the ESA....................................9
Court Cases on the ESA and Science.........................11
Regional Resource Conflicts....................................12
Klamath River Basin......................................12
Pacific Salmon Restoration.................................13
Rio Grande Silvery Minnow................................13
Counterpart Regulations: Pesticides and Fire Management Projects.....14
Private Property and Fifth Amendment Takings.....................15
Making the ESA More User-Friendly.............................17
Additional Legislative Initiatives.................................18
ESA Listing Caps, New and Old.............................21
List of Tables
Table 1. Percent Recovery Achieved versus Time Listed...................8
Table 2. Funding for Endangered Species and Related Programs,
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the
109 Congress: Conflicting Values
and Difficult Choices
Most Recent Developments
On December 22, 2006, President Bush signed P.L. 109-449 (S. 362),
establishing NOAA and Coast Guard programs to manage marine debris and address
its adverse effects on endangered species. On December 9, 2006, the Senate agreed
to the House-amended S. 362. On December 9, 2006, the House passed the Senate-
amended H.R. 5946. On December 7, 2006, the Senate passed H.R. 5946, amended
to incorporate language (1) requiring a study of sea turtle excluder devices in shrimp
trawls, and (2) implementing the Agreement on the Conservation and Management
of the Alaska-Chukotka Polar Bear Population. On December 6, 2006, the Senate
passed H.R. 4075, after amending this bill to incorporate language implementing the
Agreement on the Conservation and Management of the Alaska-Chukotka Polar Bear
Population. (This report replaces CRS Issue Brief IB10144, The Endangered Species
Act (ESA) in the 109th Congress: Conflicting Values and Difficult Choices, by
Eugene H. Buck et al.)
Background and Analysis
The 1973 ESA (P.L. 93-205, as amended; 16 U.S.C. §§1531-1543) was a
comprehensive attempt to protect species at risk of extinction and to consider habitat
protection as an integral part of that effort. A stated purpose of the ESA is to protect
the ecosystems of which listed species are a part. Under the ESA, species of plants
and animals (both vertebrate and invertebrate) may be listed as either endangered or
threatened according to assessments of the risk of their extinction. More flexible
management can be provided for species listed as threatened. Distinct population
segments may also be listed as threatened or endangered, but only of vertebrate
species. Consequently, some populations of chinook, coho, chum, and sockeye
salmon in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and California are protected under the ESA,
even as other healthy populations of these same species in Alaska are not listed and
may be commercially harvested. More limited protection is available for plant
species under the ESA. Once a species is listed, powerful legal tools, including
penalties and citizen suits, are available to aid species recovery and protect habitat.
Use of these tools, or the failure to use them, has led to conflict.1
1 For additional background, see CRS Report RL31654, The Endangered Species Act: A
Primer, by Pamela Baldwin, Eugene H. Buck, and M. Lynne Corn.
The ESA is administered by the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife
Service (FWS) for terrestrial and freshwater species and some marine mammals, and
by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS; also popularly referred to as
NOAA Fisheries) in the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for the remaining marine and anadromous
species.2 The U.S. Geological Survey’s Biological Resources Division conducts
research on species for which FWS has management authority; NMFS conducts
research on the species for which it is responsible.
As of September 20, 2006, a total of 1,132 species of animals and 747 species
of plants had been listed as either endangered or threatened, of which the majority
(567 species of animals and 744 species of plants) occur in the United States and its
territories and the remainder only in other countries. Of the 1,311 U.S. species (an
increase of 49 species since December 31, 2002), 1,070 are covered in recovery plans
(an increase of 70 species since December 31, 2002).3 Of the U.S. species, 475 have
designated critical habitat (CH) in some portion of their range.4
At times, efforts to protect and recover listed species are controversial; declining
species often function like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, by flagging larger
issues of resource scarcity and altered ecosystems. Past resource debates in which
ESA-listed species were part of larger issues include Tennessee’s Tellico Dam (water
storage and construction jobs versus farmland protection and tribal graves, as well
as snail darters); Pacific northwest timber harvest (protection of logging jobs and
communities versus commercial and sport fishing, recreation, and ecosystem
protection, as well as salmon and spotted owls); and Texas’s Edwards Aquifer
(allocation of water among various users with differing short- and long-term
interests, as well as several spring-dependent species).
Major Provisions of Domestic Law
Listing. Species may be listed on the initiative of the appropriate Secretary or
by petition from an individual, group, or state agency. The Secretary must decide
whether to list the species based only on the best available scientific and commercial
information, after an extensive series of procedural steps to ensure public
participation and the collection of scientific information.5 In deciding whether a
species needs the protections of the ESA, the Secretary may not take into account the
economic effects that listing may have; economic and other considerations are taken6
into account in structuring alternatives for assisting the species after listing.
2 For background on the ESA programs of the two administering agencies, see FWS
programs at [http://www.fws.gov/endangered/] and NMFS programs at [http://www.nmfs.
3 Daily updated statistics are available at [http://ecos.fws.gov/tess_public/Boxscore.do].
4 A list of species with designated CH is available at [http://ecos.fws.gov/tess_public/
CriticalHabitat.do?listings =0&nmf s=1].
5 For a more detailed discussion of the listing process, see [http://www.fws.gov/endangered/
listing/listing.pdf] and [http://www.fws.gov/endangered/esb/99/11-12/6-9.pdf].
6 For an analysis of when and how the ESA allows consideration of economic factors, see
In addition, FWS and NMFS may identify selected species by adding them to
a list of “candidate species” believed at sufficient risk to warrant protection, but such
protection is precluded by work to protect listed species. As of September 13, 2006,
there were 279 species on the list of candidate species.7
Critical Habitat. With certain exceptions, if a species is listed, the Secretary
must designate critical habitat (CH) in areas where the species is currently found or
which might provide additional habitat for the species’ recovery.8 However, if the
publication of this information is not prudent (e.g., might encourage vandals or
collectors), the Secretary may decide not to designate CH. The Secretary may
postpone designation for up to one year after listing, if the information is not
determinable (16 U.S.C. §1533). As of June 16, 2006, FWS had designated CH for
As a practical matter, CH has not been designated for most listed species largely
because FWS prefers to allocate its limited resources to listing new species, based on
its regulation (50 C.F.R. §402.02) that takes away much of the legal value of
designating CH to the recovery of the species. Yet FWS consistently loses legal
challenges for failure to designate CH, and several courts have found the regulation
in question to be an erroneous interpretation of the law, because it does not take into9
account the duty to avoid adverse modification of CH. Others have asserted the
value of CH; for example, scientists with the Center for Biological Diversity
published a study in April 2005, concluding that CH designation enhances species
recovery.10 On April 28, 2006, the Keystone Center’s ESA Working Group on11
Habitat released a report on habitat protection and the ESA. One of the conclusions
of participants in this study was that identification of the habitat that species require
to recover is better done in the context of recovery planning, after more rigorous
analysis and deliberation have been completed, rather than at the time of listing.
CH is frequently misunderstood by the public as posing a significant direct
restriction on private landowners’ authority to manage land. While a landowner may
experience some additional procedures and possible restrictions on land management
because of the presence of an ESA-listed species (through the ESA’s prohibitions on
CRS Report RL30792, The Endangered Species Act: Consideration of Economic Factors,
by Pamela Baldwin.
7 The list of candidate species is available at [http://ecos.fws.gov/tess_public/Species
8 For additional background on CH, see CRS Report RS20263, Designation of Critical
Habitat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), by Pamela Baldwin.
9 Sierra Club v. United States Fish and Wildlife Service, 245 F. 3d 434 (5th Cir. 2001), cited
with approval in New Mexico Cattle Growers Ass’n v. FWS, 248 F. 3d 1277 (10th Cir. 2001);th
Gifford Pinchot Task Force v. USFWS, 2004 U.S. App. LEXIS 16215 (9 Cir. August 6,
10 See [http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/programs/policy/ch/bioscience2005.pdf].
11 Available at [http://www.keystone.org/spp/documents/ESA%20Report%20FINAL%204
taking a listed species), and the presence of CH may shed light on whether “harm”
has occurred, the duty to avoid adverse modification of CH is an express obligation
only for federal agencies and actions, or private (nonfederal) actors in actions with
a federal nexus (i.e., actions that involve any federal funding, permit, or license).
(See also “Issues in the 109th Congress,” below.)
Prohibitions and Penalties. The ESA contains prohibitions on the “take”
of endangered species; take means to “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill,
trap, capture, or collect or attempt to engage in any such conduct” (16 U.S.C. §1532;
harassment and harm are further defined in regulation at 50 C.F.R. §17.3). There has
been controversy over the extent to which habitat modification is prohibited. A 1995
Supreme Court decision held that the inclusion of significant habitat modification12
was a reasonable interpretation of the term “harm” in the ESA. The ESA provides
civil and criminal penalties for violations.
Permits and Consultation. Proposed actions that may have adverse impacts
on listed species may be permitted in two ways. First, under §7 of the ESA, if federal
agency actions (or actions of a nonfederal party that require an agency’s approval,
permit, or funding) may affect a listed species, the federal agency must ensure that
those actions are “not likely to jeopardize the continued existence” of any endangered
or threatened species, nor to destroy or adversely modify CH. To review the possible
effects of their actions on listed species and CH, federal agencies must consult with
the appropriate Secretary. If the Secretary finds that an action would jeopardize a
listed species or destroy or adversely modify CH, the Secretary must suggest
reasonable and prudent alternatives that would avoid these harms. Pending
completion of the consultation process, agencies may not make irretrievable
commitments of resources that would foreclose any alternatives. The Secretary
issues a written statement, called a biological opinion, that may allow the agency or
the applicant to take individuals of a species incidental to otherwise lawful activities
without triggering the ESA’s penalties, subject to terms and conditions specified in
the opinion (16 U.S.C. §1536), or may conclude that jeopardy cannot be avoided, in
which case the agency may seek an exemption for the action from the Endangered
For actions without a federal nexus (i.e., no federal funding, permit, or license),
the appropriate Secretary may issue permits under §10 of the ESA to allow the
incidental take of species during otherwise lawful actions.13 An applicant for a
permit must submit a habitat conservation plan (HCP) that shows the likely impact
of the planned action; steps to be taken to minimize and mitigate the impact; funding
for the mitigation; alternatives that were considered and rejected; and any other
measures that the Secretary may require. The use of this section has been vastly
expanded, and streamlined procedures are provided for activities with minimal
impacts (50 C.F.R. §17.22).
12 See CRS Report 95-778, Habitat Modification and the Endangered Species Act: The
Sweet Home Decision, by Pamela Baldwin.
13 For additional background on FWS’s permitting program, see [http://www.fws.gov/
Exemptions. Proponents of a federal action may apply for an exemption from
the prohibition against jeopardy for that action (not for a species). Under the ESA,
a high-level Endangered Species Committee (commonly called the “God Squad”)
decides whether to allow a project to proceed despite likely harm to a species. To
date, this process has been little used and only one exemption (Grayrocks Dam, WY)
has been granted and carried out. The committee is required to accept the President’s
determination (under specified circumstances) on an exemption in declared disaster
areas. The ESA committee must grant an exemption if the Secretary of Defense
determines that an exemption is necessary for national security (16 U.S.C. §1536).
DOD has claimed that requirements under the ESA conflict with its readiness
activities, but DOD has not requested any exemptions to date. (See also “Issues in
the 109th Congress,” below.) Other statutes may provide for waivers of ESA
provisions; for example, §102(c) of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant
Responsibility Act of 1996 provides for a waiver of the ESA (and NEPA) to the
extent the Attorney General determines is necessary to ensure expeditious
construction of barriers and roads at borders.
In the 109th Congress, §2(b) of H.R. 3693 would have waived ESA provisions
to the extent the Secretary of Homeland Security deemed necessary to prevent illegal
border crossings. In addition, Section 2(b)(2)(A) of H.R. 5235 asserted that P.L. 108-
148, the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003, exempted certain actions by federal
land management agencies from ESA consultation and would require a National
Academy of Sciences study of the impacts of P.L. 108-148. Section 3 of H.R. 5678
would have waived ESA review and consultation for certain pipeline repair and
replacement activities where best practices have been developed or adopted by an
Emergencies. 50 C.F.R. §402.05 provides for ESA procedures in case of
emergencies, basically requiring only very informal consultations during an
emergency with more complete consultation after the emergency has passed.
According to FWS, any hurricane-related federal activities in presidentially declared
disaster areas would trigger the emergency consultation provisions of the ESA.
Specifically, for the 2005 Gulf of Mexico hurricanes, FWS stated that restoring “any
infrastructure damaged or lost due to the hurricane back into the original footprint
does not require ESA consultation with the Service.” In the 109th Congress, S.
2079/H.R. 4200 would have authorized emergency procedures to comply with ESA
§7 for pre-approved management practices for federal land damaged by a catastrophe
(§104(e)) and for catastrophic event research and recovery projects (§105(c)). The
House passed H.R. 4200 (amended) on May 17, 2006. The Senate Agriculture
Committee’s Subcommittee on Forestry, Conservation, and Rural Revitalization held
a hearing on H.R. 4200 on August 2, 2006.
Recovery Plans. The appropriate Secretary generally must develop a
recovery plan for the survival and conservation (defined in §3(3) of the ESA as “to
bring any endangered species or threatened species to the point at which the measures
provided pursuant to this Act are no longer necessary” — i.e., recovery) of a listed
species; these plans are not binding on federal agencies or others, but rather serve as
guidelines. At first, recovery plans tended to cover popular species, like birds or
mammals, but a 1988 amendment forbade the Secretary from favoring particular
taxonomic groups (16 U.S.C. §1533).
Land Acquisition and Cooperation. The federal government may acquire
land to conserve/recover listed species, and the ESA authorizes money from the Land
and Water Conservation Fund for land acquisition (16 U.S.C. §1534). The
appropriate Secretary must cooperate with the states in conserving protected species
and must enter into cooperative agreements to assist states in their endangered
species programs, if the programs meet certain specified standards. If there is a
cooperative agreement, the states may receive federal funds to implement the
program, but must normally provide a minimum 25% match. Under the 1988
amendments, the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund was
authorized to provide state grants. While regular annual deposits to this fund are set
by a formula (16 U.S.C. §1535(i)(1)), spending from the fund requires annual
Miscellaneous. Other provisions specify exemptions for certain captive
raptors and their progeny, regulate subsistence activities by Alaskan Natives, prohibit
interstate transport and sale of listed species and parts, control trade in parts or
products of endangered species owned before the ESA went into effect, and specify
rules for establishing experimental populations (16 U.S.C. §1539).
Major Provisions of International Law
For the United States, the ESA is the domestic implementing legislation for the
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
(CITES; TIAS 8249), signed by the United States on March 3, 1973; and the
Convention on Nature Protection and Wildlife Preservation in the Western
Hemisphere (the Western Hemisphere Convention; 50 Stat. 1354; TS 981), signed
by the United States on October 12, 1940. CITES parallels the ESA by dividing its
listed species into groups, according to the estimated risk of extinction, but uses three
major categories (called Appendices), rather than two. In contrast to the ESA, CITES14
classifies species based solely on the risk that trade poses to their survival. The
ESA makes violations of CITES violations of U.S. law if committed within U.S.
jurisdiction (16 U.S.C. §1538). The ESA also regulates import and export of
controlled products and provides some exceptions.15
On August 18, 2003, FWS published a draft policy for enhancement-of-survival16
permits for foreign species listed under the ESA. The permits would allow imports
of endangered species into the United States for scientific research and for the
enhancement of survival of the species in their range country (i.e., the country where
the population of the species in question naturally exists). The comment period on17
this draft policy has closed, but FWS has not yet published its final policy.
14 For additional information on CITES, see [http://www.cites.org/].
15 For more information on CITES, see CRS Report RL32751, The Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES): Background
and Issues, by Pervaze A. Sheikh and M. Lynne Corn.
16 68 Fed. Reg. 49512.
17 For additional information, see CRS Report RS22420, Enhancement-of-Survival Permits:
In addition, the Multinational Species Conservation Fund (MSCF) in FWS
benefits tigers, the six species of rhinoceroses, Asian and African elephants, marine
turtles, and great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, and the various
species of gibbons). This fund supports conservation efforts benefitting these
species, often in conjunction with efforts under CITES.18
In the 109th Congress, P.L. 109-363 reauthorized and amended the Neotropical
Migratory Bird Conservation Act (P.L. 106-247; 16 U.S.C. §§6101 et seq.) to
increase the federal share of costs for projects funded (Title III) and reauthorized the
Great Ape Conservation Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-411; 16 U.S.C. §§6301 et seq.) to
provide grants and emergency assistance to address conservation needs (Title VII).
A number of other bills were considered in the 109th Congress:
!Several bills would have expanded species eligible for assistance
from the MSCF by creating a Flagship Species Conservation Fund
(H.R. 93), a Great Cats and Rare Canids Conservation Fund (H.R.
!S. 270 would have established a framework for legislative and
executive consideration of unilateral economic sanctions against
foreign nations, such as could be imposed in relationship to CITES.
!H.R. 3469 would have provided measures to improve the
conservation of coral reef species and further the obligations of the
United States under CITES.
Is Species Protection and Restoration Working?
The answer to this question depends on what is measured. Since a major goal
of the ESA is the recovery of species to the point at which ESA protection is no
longer necessary, this seems a good starting point. Since the ESA was enacted in
1973, 40 U.S. and foreign species have been delisted. The reasons cited by FWS are
(a) recovery (17); (b) extinction (9, but some may have been extinct when listed); (c)
new understanding of the taxonomy of the species, making some ineligible for listing
under current law (7); and (d) new information, including a determination that
erroneous data were provided to FWS at the time of listing (7). Recovered species
include alligators, peregrine falcons (two subspecies), and three species of kangaroos.
Extinct species include the dusky seaside sparrow, Guam broadbill (a bird), and two
small fish living in desert springs. However, it can be quite difficult to prove
whether extraordinarily rare species are simply that or, in fact, are already extinct.
For example, a rare shorebird thought by many to be extinct was rediscovered in a
remote area of Canada a few years ago; it might just as easily have quietly gone
extinct without being rediscovered. Rare species are, by definition, hard to find.
Some have asserted that the ESA is a failure since only 17 species have been
delisted as recovered, as of January 25, 2006. Others note that full recoveries are
Background and Status of Proposed Policy, by Pervaze A. Sheikh.
18 For more information on the MSCF, see CRS Report RS21157, Multinational Species
Conservation Fund, by Pervaze A. Sheikh and M. Lynne Corn.
relatively few because the two principal causes of extinction — habitat loss and
invasive non-native species — are increasing. In addition, some scientific studies
have demonstrated that most species are listed only after they become very depleted
(e.g., median population of 407 animals for endangered vertebrates, according to one
study), thereby making recovery difficult. Another measure of “success” might be
the number of species that have stabilized or increased their populations, even if the
species are not actually delisted. If this standard is used, the ESA could be
considered a success, since a large number (41%, according to one study) of listed
species have improved or stabilized their population levels after listing. Other
species (e.g., red wolves and California condors) might not exist at all without ESA
protection, and this too might be considered a measure of success, although these
species are still rare.19
On May 17, 2005, the House Committee on Resources released an oversight
report entitled Implementation of the Endangered Species Act of 1973.20 It reviewed
and critiqued various ways that recovery might be measured. One approach is to look
at what proportion of the recovery objectives identified in species recovery plans
have been achieved. Table 1 indicates how recovery has progressed related to the
length of time since species were listed.
On September 8, 2006, GAO released report GAO-06-730, entitled Endangered
Species: Many Factors Affect the Length of Time to Recover Select Species. This
report examined federal efforts to recover a nonprobability sample of 31 species.
GAO determined that, while many factors affected the recovery of species, recovery
plans played an important role in the recovery of all but one of the species examined.
Critics claimed the GAO study was biased by the selection of species examined.21
Table 1. Percent Recovery Achieved versus Time Listed
(data as of September 30, 2002)
Recovery Plan% species listed % species listed % species listed
objectives5 years or less6-10 years11 years or more
Source: FWS, Recovery Report to Congress: Fiscal Years 2001-2002, p. 13.
19 See out-of-print CRS Report 98-32, Endangered Species Act List Revisions: A Summary
of Delisting and Downlisting, by Robert J. Noecker, available from [email@example.com].
20 Available at [http://resourcescommittee.house.gov/issues/more/esa/ESA_Implementation_
21 In their report, GAO acknowledges that results from nonprobability samples cannot be
used to make inferences about a population (i.e., all ESA-listed species). However, review
of the selected species provides valuable, case-level insights into their progress toward
recovery and the role that recovery plans have played in that progress.
Issues in the 109th Congress
ESA reauthorization has been on the legislative agenda since the funding
authorization expired in 1992, and bills have been introduced in each subsequent
Congress to address various aspects of endangered species protection. The issuesth
considered in the 109 Congress included effects of the ESA on private and federal
land use, how to better promote species recovery, agency use of scientific
information, specific regional resource conflicts, and other matters. Below are
descriptions of some of the issues that were most commonly raised.22
Critical Habitat Designation
With limited exceptions, FWS or NMFS must designate CH at the time a
species is listed. However, some critics argue that CH designation places undue
burdens on landowners or that it has little conservation benefit. Others argue (and
the courts have largely agreed) that FWS and NMFS have misinterpreted and failed
to enforce the current statute. There are also disagreements over the value and timing
of CH designation. (See “Critical Habitat,” above, and “ESA Listing Caps, New and
In the 109th Congress, §5 of H.R. 3824 would have repealed the designation of
CH and labeled current areas of CH as areas of special value for recovery planning
purposes. The House Committee on Resources reported this bill (amended) on
September 27, 2005 (H.Rept. 109-237), and the House passed it (amended) on
September 29, 2005. H.R. 1299 would have modified the CH definition as well as
the process for determining and designating CH. H.R. 1837 would have limited CH
designation for some aquatic habitats. S. 2110 would have designated any habitat of
an endangered species or a threatened species that is considered to be CH in
accordance with the priority system.
“Sound Science” and the ESA
The ESA requires that determinations of species status be made “solely on the
basis of the best scientific and commercial data available ...”23 In several recent
situations, legal, economic, and social disputes have resulted from actions under the
ESA. Examples of these controversies include the Canada lynx, Florida panthers,
and Klamath River Basin suckers and coho salmon. Critics in some of these disputes
suggest that the science supporting ESA action has been insufficiently rigorous or
mishandled by the agencies.
Many rare and endangered species are little studied because they are hard to find
or because it is difficult to locate enough of them to support scientific research.
22 For additional background, see CRS Report RL33309, Reauthorization of the Endangered
Species Act: A Comparison of Pending Bills and a Proposed Amendment with Current Law,
by Pervaze A. Sheikh, et al.
23 See CRS Report RL32992, The Endangered Species Act and “Sound Science,” by Eugene
H. Buck, M. Lynne Corn, and Pamela Baldwin.
There may be little information on many species facing extinction, and only limited
personnel or funds available to conduct studies on many of the less charismatic
species, or those of little known economic import. What should be done in such
instances? Some suggest that considerations other than species conservation should
prevail; others seek to change the current posture of the law by changing the role of
science. These considerations are complicated by the costs and time required to
acquire more complete data, particularly in connection with many lesser-known
The ESA does not elaborate on this question, but some assert that, given the
protective purpose of the ESA — to save and recover species — and the wording of
“best ... data available,” arguably dwindling species are to be given the benefit of the
doubt and a margin of safety provided. This is the position taken on page 1-7 of the
Endangered Species Consultation Handbook, which states that efforts should be
made to develop information, but if a biological opinion must be rendered promptly,
it should be based on the available information, “giving the benefit of the doubt to
the species,” with consultation possibly being reinitiated if additional information
becomes available.24 This phrase is drawn from H.Rept. 96-697, p. 12 (1979), which
states that the “best information available” language was intended to allow FWS to
issue biological opinions even when information was incomplete, rather than being
forced to issue negative opinions. The report also states that if a biological opinion
is rendered on the basis of inadequate information, the federal agency proposing an
action has the duty to show its actions will not jeopardize a species and a continuing
obligation to make a reasonable effort to develop information, and that the statutory
language “continues to give the benefit of the doubt to the species.”
Information Quality. Section 515 of P.L. 106-554, known as the Information
Quality Act or the Data Quality Act, directs the Office of Management and Budget
(OMB) to issue government-wide guidelines to federal agencies to ensure and
maximize the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information disseminated25
by federal agencies. OMB published final guidelines on February 22, 2002. The
Department of the Interior and FWS have both issued additional guidelines that are26
available through their websites, and a process is established for interested persons
to seek correction of information. Even before these latest guidelines, FWS had
promulgated guidance on information quality and peer review procedures — issues
that also have been addressed in recent legislation.
FWS and NMFS developed an Interagency Cooperative Policy on Information27
Standards Under the Endangered Species Act. Under this policy, FWS and NMFS
are to receive and use information from a wide variety of sources, including from
individuals. Submitted information may range from the informal — oral, traditional,
or anecdotal — to peer-reviewed scientific studies, and hence the reliability of the
information can vary widely. Agency biologists are to review and evaluate all
24 Available at [http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/laws/esa_section7_handbook.pdf].
25 67 Fed. Reg. 8452.
26 For example, see [http://www.fws.gov/stand/standards/process_WWW.html].
27 59 Fed. Reg. 34271, July 1, 1994.
information impartially for purposes of listing, CH designation, consultation,
recovery, and permitting actions, and to ensure that any information used by the
agencies to implement the ESA is “reliable, credible, and represents the best
scientific and commercial data available.” Agency biologists are to document their
evaluations of all information and, to the extent consistent with the use of the best
scientific and commercial data available, use primary and original sources of
information as the basis for recommendations. In addition, agency managers are to
review the work of FWS and NMFS biologists to “verify and assure the quality of the
science used to establish official positions, decisions, and actions...”
Additionally, a companion document, the Interagency Cooperative Policy for
Peer Review in Endangered Species Act Activities,28 notes that, in addition to the
public comments received on proposed listing rules and draft recovery plans, the
Services are also to formally solicit expert opinions and peer review to ensure the
best biological and commercial information. For listing decisions, the agencies are
to solicit the expert opinions of three specialists and summarize these in the record
of final decision. Special independent peer review can also be used when it is likely
to reduce or resolve an unacceptable level of scientific uncertainty.
Court Cases on the ESA and Science.29 Courts that have considered the
“best data available” language have held that an agency is not obliged to conduct
studies to obtain missing data,30 but cannot ignore available biological information,3132
especially if the ignored information is the most current. Nor may an agency treat
one species differently from other similarly situated species,33 nor decline to list a
dwindling species and wait until it is on the brink of extinction in reliance on
possible but uncertain future actions of an agency.34 “Best scientific and commercial
data available” is not a standard of absolute certainty, reflecting Congress’s intent
that FWS take conservation measures before a species is conclusively headed for35
extinction. If FWS does not base its listings on speculation or surmise or disregard
superior data, the imperfections of the studies upon which it relies do not undermine
those studies as the best scientific data available — “ the Service must utilize the best
scientific ... data available, not the best scientific data possible.”36
Judicial review can also help ensure that agency decisions and their use of
scientific data are not “arbitrary or capricious” and that regulations are rationally
28 59 Fed. Reg. 34270, July 1, 1994.
29 For more information, see CRS Report RL32992, The Endangered Species Act and
“Sound Science,” by Eugene H. Buck, M. Lynne Corn, and Pamela Baldwin.
30 Southwest Center for Biological Diversity v. Babbitt, 215 F. 3d 58 (D.C. Cir. 2000).
31 Connor v. Burford, 848 F. 2d 1441 (9th Cir. 1988).
32 Southwest Center for Biological Diversity v. Babbitt, 926 F. Supp. 920 (D.C. Ariz. 1996).
34 Biodiversity Legal Foundation v. Babbitt, 943 F. Supp. 23 (D. D.C. 1996).
35 Defenders of Wildlife v. Babbitt, 958 F. Supp. 670, 679-680 (D. D.C. 1997).
36 Building Industry Ass’n of Sup. Cal. v. Norton, 247 F. 3d 1241, 1246-1267 (D.C. Cir.
related to the problems causing the decline of a species, especially when other
interests are adversely affected.37 In Arizona Cattle Growers Association v. United
States Fish and Wildlife Service,38 the court stated that the evidentiary bar FWS must
clear is very low, but it must at least clear it. In the context of issuing Incidental Take
Permits under §10(a), this ruling means the agency must demonstrate that a species
is or could be in an area before regulating it, and must establish the causal connection
between the land use being regulated and harm to the species in question. Mere
speculation as to the potential for harm is not sufficient. An agency must consider
the relevant facts and articulate a rational connection between these facts and the
Regional Resource Conflicts
One express purpose of the ESA is to “provide a means whereby the ecosystems
upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved”
(16 U.S.C. §1531(b)). As open space dwindles and increasing human populations
put pressures on our wildlands and natural resources, the conservation of species and
their habitats may highlight underlying resource crises and economic conflicts.
Public values and affected economic interests may be complex and sometimes at
odds. The situations described below are some of the situations that have been the
subject of recent congressional oversight and legislative interest. In the 109th
Congress and reflecting several of these regional conflicts, the House Resources
Subcommittee on Water and Power held an oversight hearing on June 22, 2005,
focusing on the effect of the ESA on water supplies.
Klamath River Basin. Controversy erupted in 2001 when the Department
of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation announced it would not release water from
part of its Klamath irrigation project to approximately 200,000 acres of farm and
pasture lands within the roughly 235,000-acre project service area. The operational
change sought to make more water available for three fish species under ESA
protection — two endangered sucker species, and a threatened coho salmon
population. The Klamath Project straddles the Oregon/California border and has
been the site of increasingly complex water management issues involving several
tribes, fishermen, farmers, environmentalists, and recreationists. Upstream farmers
point to their contractual rights to water from the Klamath Project and to hardships
for their families if water is cut off. Others assert that the downstream salmon fishery
is more valuable and that farmers could be provided temporary economic assistance,
while salmon extinction would be permanent. Still others assert that there are ways
to serve all interests, or that the science underlying agency determinations is simply
wrong. Specifically at issue is how to operate the Bureau’s project facilities to meet
irrigation contract obligations without jeopardizing the three listed fish. The Trinity
River diversion from the Klamath basin to central California also has ramifications
37 See Connor v. Andrus (453 F. Supp. 1037 (W.D. TX. 1978)) striking down regulations
totally banning duck hunting in an area to protect one listed species of duck.
38 273 F. 3d 1229, 9th Cir. 2001.
39 Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Inc. v. NMFS, 265 F.3d 1028, 1034
(9th Cir. 2001).
for the Bureau’s role in the Central Valley Project. Various 10-year and annual
operation plans, and associated biological assessments (by the Bureau) and biological
opinions (by FWS and NMFS) have been criticized and defended.40
Pacific Salmon Restoration. Salmon protection in the Pacific Northwest
in general presents many difficult choices, especially because of recent droughts and
the connection between regional hydropower facilities and fishery management
decisions. NMFS officials have listed a total of 26 distinct population segments
(called evolutionarily significant units or ESUs) of Pacific salmon and steelhead trout
as either threatened or endangered, and are working with state, local, and tribal
officials, as well as the public, to implement recovery measures addressing habitat
restoration and other concerns. Recent controversies and litigation have focused on
three issues: (1) biological opinions on operation of the Federal Columbia River
Power System (FCRPS) as it relates to retaining (or removing) four dams on the
lower Snake River, and how properly to factor the presence of the dams into
evaluations of jeopardy; (2) whether or not salmon produced in hatcheries should be
included in listed ESUs of Pacific salmon; and (3) the role and extent of CH
designation in the recovery of Pacific salmon. Interim decisions of the federal district
court for Oregon have invalidated NMFS’s approach to evaluating jeopardy to
salmon from dam operations on the Columbia and Snake Rivers, and ordered
increased spills of water to assist transit of juvenile salmon to the sea.
In the 109th Congress, S. 232 would have authorized the Bureau of Reclamation
to assist in implementing fish passage and screening facilities at nonfederal water
projects in the Columbia River Basin to meet the Bureau’s ESA obligations. On
March 10, 2005, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources reported
S. 232 (S.Rept. 109-31); the Senate passed it on July 26, 2005. H.R. 1615 would
have required a National Academy of Sciences analysis of federal salmon recovery
efforts and a Government Accountability Office study of the effects of partially
removing four lower Snake River dams, and would have authorized partial removal
of these four dams under certain conditions. Section 103 of S. 2432/H.R. 5006
would have designated salmon restoration areas in California. H.R. 6377 and S.
4084 would have authorized implementing the San Joaquin River Restoration
Settlement providing for the reintroduction of spring-run chinook salmon below
Rio Grande Silvery Minnow. Efforts to hold back water necessary for the
Rio Grande silvery minnow from competing New Mexico water users (primarily the
city of Albuquerque and irrigators) ignited considerable controversy. At issue is the
operation of two Bureau of Reclamation water projects on the Middle Rio Grande:
the San Juan-Chama Project and the Middle Rio Grande Project. The New Mexico
District Court held that withholding water from irrigators for ESA-related purposes
was permissible under the water contracts at issue.41 Congress halted implementation
and an agreement regarding the minnow has been negotiated.
40 For more information, see CRS Report RL31098, Klamath River Basin Issues: An
Overview of Water Use Conflicts, coordinated by Betsy A. Cody, et al.
41 Affirmed by the 10th Cir., 333 F.3d 1109 (10th Cir 2004).
In the 109th Congress, §121 (Title I, Corps of Engineers) of P.L. 109-103
authorized certain activities related to the Middle Rio Grande Endangered Species
Collaborative Program (MRGESCP). S. 1540 would have directed the Secretary of
the Army and the Secretary of the Interior to establish the MRGESCP to improve
water management and contribute to the recovery of endangered species in the
Middle Rio Grande, NM. S. 2254 would have directed the Corps of Engineers to
carry out restoration projects along the Middle Rio Grande in consultation with the
Pesticides and Fire Management Projects
In 50 C.F.R. §402.04, “counterpart” regulations are authorized that allow an
action agency to determine unilaterally whether its actions are likely to adversely
affect listed species, thereby avoiding §7 consultation with FWS or NMFS.42
Although the regulation has been on the books for years, it has not been used until
recently, and hence its validity has not yet been tested in the courts. Several new
counterpart regulations have recently been finalized and suits challenging the
regulations have been filed.
New counterpart pesticide regulations were finalized on August 5, 2004,43 for
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulatory actions on pesticides, such that
when the EPA is taking action under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and
Rodenticide Act (FIFRA; P.L. 80-104; 7 U.S.C. §§136, et seq.), the EPA and FWS
may execute an alternative consultation agreement under which the EPA will decide
whether a proposed FIFRA action is likely to adversely affect a listed species or
critical habitat. The EPA may make this determination without informal consultation
with, and written concurrence from, the FWS Director. If the EPA makes such a
determination, no further consultation is required. There is to be FWS oversight of
the consistency of EPA’s determinations with the ESA. Under 50 C.F.R. §402.43,
the EPA may ask FWS for information on listed species that may be present in an
area that might be affected by the FIFRA action, including the applicable
environmental baseline for each species or habitat, and under new §402.44, the EPA
may request FWS personnel to assist in an effects determination and must use its
“best efforts” to include the FWS representative in relevant discussions. These two
regulations appear to apply with or without an alternative consultation agreement.
Critics note that the EPA has a poor record on consultations,44 and fear that the new
self-consultation process will allow more harm to listed species. Supporters counter
that the new process will increase EPA flexibility and efficiency.
42 Counterpart regulations are not authorized by the ESA, and there is some question
whether they comport with the law or go too far. One could argue that consultation is
supposed to be with FWS; the argument on the other side is that counterpart regulations
might constitute a “de minimis” procedure for minor actions.
43 69 Fed. Reg. 47732; 50 C.F.R. Part 402, Subpart D.
44 See Washington Toxics Coalition v. EPA, Civ. No CO1-132C (W.D. Wa. 2002).
On August 24, 2006, U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour overturned
EPA counterpart regulations relating to pesticides, ruling that these regulations did
not conform to the plain language or intent of the ESA §7 by excusing federal action
agencies from engaging in consultation with FWS or NMFS.45 In addition, he held
that it was illegal for FWS or NMFS to allow EPA to use emergency consultation
procedures for FIFRA §18 actions. Judge Coughenour let stand the process of
“optional formal consultation” in which NMFS or FWS can adopt EPA effects
determinations as their own.
Counterpart regulations also were finalized December 8, 2003,46 among the
Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the
National Park Service, FWS, and NMFS, to streamline consultation on projects
supporting the National Fire Plan (NFP). The alternative consultation process
contained in these counterpart regulations eliminates the need to conduct informal
consultation with FWS or NMFS, and eliminates the requirement to obtain written
concurrence from FWS or NMFS for those NFP actions that the action agency
determines are “not likely to adversely affect” any listed species or designated CH.
Private Property and Fifth Amendment Takings
The presence of endangered species on private property is sometimes welcomed
by owners. Builders, for example, have been known to market a new residential
development in part on the basis of the wildlife present on undeveloped parts of the
tract. Still, the prohibitions in §9 (private actions) and §7 (federal nexus) may at
times frustrate the economic desires of owners of land or other property. This has
long been a rallying cry for the ESA’s detractors, who assert that restrictions under
the ESA routinely “take” property in the constitutional sense of the term. Conflicts
between the ESA and property owners come about despite the existence of ESA
mechanisms intended to soften its impact on property owners.
Under the Fifth Amendment, property cannot be “taken” by the United States
without just compensation. The Supreme Court has long tried, with limited success,
to define which government actions affect private property so severely as to effect
such a “taking.” In briefest outline, government actions usually are deemed a taking
when they cause either a permanent physical occupation of private property or a total
elimination of its economic use. When the government restriction removes only part,
but not all, of the property’s use or value, a three-factor balancing test is used.47
Although these factors have been little explicated by the courts, it is clear that for a
45 Washington Toxics Coalition v. U.S. Department of the Interior, 04-1998 (W.D. Wa.
46 68 Fed. Reg. 68254; 50 C.F.R. Part 402, Subpart C.
47 The three factors, announced by the Supreme Court in Penn Central Transp. Co. v. New
York City in 1978 and reaffirmed by the Court many times since, are (1) the economic
impact of the government action on the property owner; (2) the extent to which the
government action interferes with the owner’s reasonable investment-backed expectations;
and (3) the “character” of the government action. These are vague guideposts only; the
Court stresses that every case is to be decided ad hoc. Indeed, many question whether it’s
even appropriate to call the three factors a test.
taking to occur, the property impact must be severe. Moreover, except for physical
takings, the property impact is assessed with regard to the property as a whole, not
just the regulated portion.
More than a dozen court decisions have addressed takings challenges to ESA
restrictions on land or other property, with all but one finding no taking. These cases
have involved restrictions on timber cutting, reductions in water delivery to preserve
instream flows needed by listed species, restrictions on shooting marauding animals
resulting in loss of livestock, and prohibitions on the transport or sale of endangered
species. In several of these cases, the taking claim failed because it was filed in the
wrong court or was not “ripe.” Where taking claims were reached by the court, they
were rejected principally because the economic impact was insufficient as to the
property as a whole, or because of the longstanding principle that the government is
not responsible for the actions of wild animals. In the one decision favoring the
property owner, ESA-related cutbacks in water delivered by a state reclamation
project to water districts were held a taking by the United States of
state-contract-created water rights.48 This decision has been controversial for several
reasons, including the Department of Justice’s settlement of the case (for $16.7
million) despite arguments pressed on it from several quarters that the case was
ESA critics want the ESA amended to afford compensation for a broader range
of property impacts than the Constitution provides — perhaps by specifying a fixed
percentage of ESA-related property value loss, above which compensation must
always be paid. Similar provisions have been included in bills of previous
Congresses. In the 109th Congress, §14 of H.R. 3824 would have required federal
compensation for property owners who forgo use of property following
determinations that continued use would not comply with prohibitions on taking
ESA-listed species. The House Committee on Resources reported this bill
(amended) on September 27, 2005 (H.Rept. 109-237), and the House passed it
(amended) on September 29, 2005. Opponents of an explicit compensation standard
counter that the ESA should not be singled out for a more property owner-friendly
standard than other statutes’ or the Constitution’s. More fundamentally, they note
that property rights have never been absolute, and that regulation has long been
noncompensable as long as the impact on the property owner is not severe. The
likely consequences of a generous compensation threshold — added federal costs
and/or a chill on ESA implementation — are among the issues slowing action on
ESA reauthorization. However, both proponents and opponents of the ESA favor
enacting incentives (primarily tax benefits) to encourage landowner cooperation.
Also in the 109th Congress, §3 of H.R. 411 would have awarded compensation
for ESA activities that eliminate or reduce grazing privileges. H.R. 3166 would have
authorized the waiver of grazing permits in designated CH and provide compensation
48 Tulare Lake Basin Water Storage Dist. v. United States, 49 Fed. Cl. 313 (2001).
49 See CRS Report RL31796, The Endangered Species Act and Claims of Property Rights
“Takings”, by Robert Meltz; and CRS Congressional Distribution Memorandum, The
‘Tulare Lake’ Decision’s Implications for Use of Bureau of Reclamation Project Water, by
Pamela Baldwin and Robert Meltz, available from [firstname.lastname@example.org].
for waived permits. S. 2110 would have provided a variety of tax benefits. S. 4087
would have provided a tax credit to individuals who entered into agreements to
protect endangered and threatened species habitat.
Making the ESA More User-Friendly
Former Interior Secretary Babbitt initiated actions to decrease ESA conflicts in
several ways. Joint FWS and NMFS policies streamlined permit procedures for
small landowners, and other initiatives encouraged landowners to increase protection
for populations of listed species on their land. Under safe harbor agreements,
landowners who increased suitable habitat could return to “baseline conditions”
without penalty. No surprises agreements provided landowners with greater certainty
regarding activities that might otherwise trigger penalties — an incentive for
landowners to develop Habitat Conservation Plans (HCP), since a landowner
properly implementing such an agreement is assured that there will be no further
costs or restrictions on the use of the property to benefit the species covered by the
HCP, except by mutual consent or in unforeseen circumstances in which changes
may be implemented by the government without costs borne by the landowner.
Modifications to the no surprises rule required revoking an incidental take permit if
the permitted taking would be inconsistent with the survival and recovery of the
relevant listed species, and the inconsistency was not remedied in a timely fashion.
These rules were reproposed50 and finalized51 in response to litigation, but may still
present issues raised previously. Federal managers also focused on listing species as
threatened rather than endangered, to allow FWS to take advantage of the ESA’s
more flexible provisions for protecting threatened species. While administrative
changes have been made within the framework of existing law, there is great interest
among some groups in codifying many of these changes in an amended ESA. Others
are critical of HCP agreements as difficult to enforce, virtually lacking monitoring,
and locking the government into inflexible long-term positions that sometimes are
based on inadequate knowledge.
In the 109th Congress, §365 of P.L. 109-58, the Energy Policy Act of 2005,
established a pilot project in WY, MT, CO, UT, and NM to better coordinate certain
actions among federal agencies,52 including consultations and the preparation of
biological opinions under ESA §7. In addition, P.L. 109-294 (S. 260) expanded the
authority of the Secretary of the Interior to assist private landowners in restoring,
enhancing, and managing endangered and threatened species habitat on private land
through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. A number of additional bills
were introduced in the 109th Congress:
50 69 Fed. Reg. 29681, May 25, 2004.
51 69 Fed. Reg. 71723, December 10, 2004, 50 C.F.R. Part 17.
52 Also included in this pilot program were (1) permits under §404 of Federal Water
Pollution Control Act (33 U.S.C. 1344); (2) regulatory matters under the Clean Air Act (42
U.S.C. 7401 et seq.); (3) planning under the National Forest Management Act of 1976 (16
U.S.C. 472a et seq.); and (4) the preparation of analyses under the National Environmental
Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.).
!H.R. 3300 would have authorized species recovery agreements
obligating the federal government to make annual payments or
provide other compensation for activities that improve the recovery
of listed species;
!S. 1497 would have required the Secretary of the Interior to provide
incidental take permits to public electric utilities that adopt measures
to mitigate hazards to eagles and other migratory birds;
!S. 2110 would have codified the no surprises policy; and
!Section 106(b) of H.R. 6064 and §205(c) of H.R. 6193 would have
authorized the Secretary of Agriculture to provide incentive
payments to landowners through the Wildlife Habitat Incentive
Program to protect or restore the habitat of federally or state-listed
endangered, threatened, and candidate species.
Additional Legislative Initiatives
In the 109th Congress, bills were introduced in both the House and Senate to
reauthorize and amend the ESA. The House Committee on Resources reported H.R.
3824 (the Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2005, amended) on
September 27, 2005 (H.Rept. 109-237); the House passed H.R. 3824 (amended) on
September 29, 2005. S. 2110, the Collaboration for the Recovery of Endangered
Species Act, was introduced on December 15, 2005.
Proponents of both bills said that they were designed to make the ESA more
effective by redefining the relationship between private and public property uses and
species protection, implementing new incentives for species conservation, and
removing what some see as undue land use restrictions. Thus, both proposals
contained provisions meant to encourage greater voluntary conservation of species
by states and private landowners, a concept that has been supported by many
observers. Further, both proposals would have modified or eliminated certain
procedural or other elements of the current ESA that some have viewed as significant
protections and prohibitions, including:
!eliminating or changing the role of “critical habitat” (CH) (which
would eliminate one aspect of the current consultation process);
!making the listing of all threatened and endangered species more
difficult or less likely;
!expanding §10 permits allowing incidental take (which could incur
a greater need for agency oversight and enforcement); and
!expanding state rather than federal implementation of ESA programs
(which might make oversight more difficult).
Proponents of these changes argued that tighter listing standards would enable a
better focus on species with the most dire needs, and that other measures would
achieve recovery of more species. Critics argued that proposed changes would create
gaps in the ESA safety net of protections and prohibitions.53
53 For additional information, see CRS Report RL33309, Reauthorization of the Endangered
P.L. 109-183 (S. 1578) reauthorized Upper Colorado and San Juan River Basin
endangered fish recovery programs. P.L. 109-225 (S. 1165) expanded Hawaii’s
James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge to protect habitat for endangered
waterbirds. P.L. 109-449 established NOAA and Coast Guard programs to manage
marine debris and address its adverse effects on endangered species. Additional
measures were considered by the 109th Congress:
!Section 212 of S. 2012 and §209 of H.R. 5051 would have required
a study of sea turtle excluder devices in shrimp trawls; S. 2012 was
reported by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and
Transportation on April 4, 2006 (S.Rept. 109-229), and was passed
by the Senate (amended) on June 19, 2006. On December 7, 2006,
the Senate passed H.R. 5946, after amending this measure to
substitute language from amended S. 2012. The House passed the
amended H.R. 5946 on December 9, 2006, with the turtle excluder
language in §212.
!S. 2013 and §17 of H.R. 4075, as passed by the House on July 17,
2006, would have implemented the Agreement on the Conservation
and Management of the Alaska-Chukotka Polar Bear Population.
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
reported S. 2013 on February 27, 2006 (S.Rept. 109-217); the Senate
passed this measure (amended) on June 6, 2006. On December 6,
2013 and passed the amended H.R. 4075. On December 7, 2006, the
Senate amended H.R. 5946 to insert the language of S. 2013 as Title
IX, and passed the amended H.R. 5946. On December 9, 2006, the
House agreed to the amended H.R. 5946.
!Section 1505 of S. 732, as reported on April 6, 2005 (S.Rept. 109-
would have authorized state programs for mitigating highway and
surface transportation impacts, including those affecting endangered
and threatened species.
!H.R. 4857 would have required that certain electricity consumers be
informed of ESA compliance costs; the House Committee on
Resources held a hearing on this bill on March 16, 2006, and
reported the bill on September 28, 2006 (H.Rept. 109-693).
!H.R. 3110 would have amended the ESA to treat distinct population
segments of the Eastern oyster as separate species. On July 19,
2005, the House Committee on Resources held an oversight hearing
on ESA listing of this species.
!S. 164 would have facilitated acquisition of UT lands to protect
!H.R. 2323 would have promoted southern sea otter recovery and
Species Act: A Comparison of Pending Bills and a Proposed Amendment with Current Law,
coordinated, by Pervaze A. Sheikh.
!H.Res. 249 celebrated the rediscovery of the ivory-billed
woodpecker in Arkansas.
!H.R. 2779 would have amended the ESA to enable federal agencies
to rescue and relocate threatened or endangered species in certain
circumstances where flood control levees are reconstructed,
maintained, or repaired.
!S.Res. 219 would have designated March 8, 2006, as “Endangered
Species Day.” S.Res. 431 designated May 11, 2006, as “Endangered
Species Day”; the Senate agreed to S.Res. 431 on April 5, 2006.
!Section 203 of H.R. 3908 would have amended the Internal Revenue
Code to exempt payments from gross revenue for landowner
incentive programs that conserve species or protect habitat.
!S. 3611 would have authorized the Secretary of the Interior to
implement the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program for
Endangered Species in the Central and Lower Platte River Basin.
!Section 209 of H.R. 6193 would have directed the Secretary of
Agriculture to establish a pilot program to recover California
endangered or threatened plant species.
!H.R. 6241 would have amended the Marine Mammal Protection Act
to authorize the taking of California sea lions to protect endangered
and threatened salmon species in the Columbia River drainage.
Section 1505(c) of H.R. 3, as agreed to by the Senate on May 17, 2005, would
have provided for state mitigation funds to benefit endangered and threatened
species; however, these provisions were not retained in the conference agreement,
subsequently enacted as P.L. 109-59.
Appropriations play an important role in the ESA debate, providing funds for
listing and recovery activities as well as financing FWS and NMFS consultations that
are necessary for federal projects. In addition, appropriations bills have served as
vehicles for some changes in the ESA.
Table 2 shows recent ESA funding. The FY2006 Department of the Interior,
Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, P.L. 109-54, provided
$271.9 million for FWS’s ESA activities. Overall, FY2006 FWS funding for ESA
and related programs is $6.5 million less than the President’s request, and $11.8
million more than the FY2005 appropriations level. FY2006 funding for ESA
programs administered by NMFS was provided in the Science, State, Justice,
Commerce, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, P.L. 109-108. Provisions in
P.L. 109-148 (H.R. 2863, the Department of Defense, Emergency Supplemental
Appropriations to Address Hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, and Pandemic
Influenza Act) rescinded unobligated balances of $2 million from FWS’s Landowner
Incentive Program and $1 million from the Cooperative Endangered Species
Conservation Fund. For FY2007, FWS appropriations are provided in H.R. 5386,
which passed the House (amended) on May 18, 2006; the Senate Committee on
Appropriations reported this bill (amended) on June 29, 2006 (S.Rept. 109-275). The
109th Congress did not complete action on FY2007 appropriations for either FWS or
An April 2005 GAO study found that, although FWS spends almost half of its
recovery funds on highest priority species, factors other than a species’ priority
ranking (e.g., regional office workload, opportunities for partnerships to maximize
scarce recovery funds), in practice, determine how funding is allocated. GAO found
that FWS does not have a process to routinely assess funding decisions to ensure that
they are appropriate.54
ESA Listing Caps, New and Old. Beginning in FY1998, Congress enacted
annual limits (caps) on funding FWS could use for its ESA listing function. This
appropriations language limits FWS discretion to transfer funds to finance additional
listings, so that if courts mandate agency action on listing certain species, other
listings may not be able to be funded. FWS supported these limits to assure that
funding for other agency programs could not be diverted to finance additional ESA
listing activities. However, courts have held that budget constraints do not excuse
an agency from compliance, in some circumstances. These limits have been
approved by Congress in succeeding fiscal year appropriations bills. P.L. 109-54,
FY2006 Department of the Interior appropriations, limits listing activities to $18.13
million, of which no more than $12.852 million could be used for activities related
to critical habitat designation. For FY2007, the Bush Administration proposed
limiting listing activities to $17.759 million, of which no more than $12.581 million
could be used for activities related to critical habitat designation; the House agreed
with the Administration’s request, while the Senate Committee on Appropriations
has reported limiting listing activities to $17.859 million, of which no more than
$12.672 million could be used for critical habitat designation.
54 Government Accountability Office, Endangered Species: Fish and Wildlife Service
Generally Focuses Recovery Funding on High-Priority Species, but Needs to Periodically
Assess Its Funding Decisions, GAO-05-211, April 6, 2005. Available at [http://www.gao.
gov/ new.items /d05211.pdf].
Table 2. Funding for Endangered Species and Related
($ in thousands)
FY2006 FY2006 FY2007 FY2007 FY2007
RequestApprop.Request Hse PassedSen Rptd
Endangered Species Program
Ca nd id a t e 8,252 8,619 8,063 8,163 10,045
Co nse r va t i o n
Listing 18,130 17,630 17,759 17,759 17,859
Co nsultatio n 49,484 47,997 49,337 50,018 50,018
Recovery 64,243 73,562 65,879 70,670 74,028
Subtotal 140,109 147,808 141,038 146,610 151,950
NM FS 213,687 181,000 189,000 no t no t
Total (to date)492,096448,098452,056
Sources: Annual budget justifications, House and Senate committee and conference reports.
a. For FY2006, the conference agreement derived $62.039 million from the Land and Water
Conservation Fund (LWCF); for FY2007, the Administration requests all $80.001 million from
b. From FY2002 to FY2007, the President’s budget proposed subsuming the Neotropical Migratory
Bird Fund within the Multinational Species Conservation Fund; to date, Congress has rejected