The Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the 110th Congress: Conflicting Values and Difficult Choices
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
The 110th Congress took limited action to oversee implementation and funding of the Endangered
Species Act (ESA; P.L. 93-205, 16 U.S.C. §§ 1531-1543) and to consider proposals to amend the
act. Major issues in recent years have included the role of science in decision-making,
consultation requirements for federal agencies, critical habitat (CH) designation and procedures,
protection by and incentives for property owners, and appropriate protection of listed species,
among others. In addition, many have advocated enacting as law some ESA regulations
promulgated during the Clinton Administration.
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 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. ESA
may also be controversial because dwindling species are usually harbingers of broader ecosystem
decline. ESA is considered a primary driver of large-scale ecosystem restoration issues. The most
common cause of species listing is habitat loss.
The authorization for spending under ESA expired on October 1, 1992. The prohibitions and
requirements of ESA remain in force, even in the absence of an authorization, and funds have
been appropriated to implement the administrative provisions of ESA in each subsequent fiscal th
year. In the 109 Congress, several proposals would have reauthorized and extensively amended th
ESA, but none were enacted. No legislative proposals were introduced in the 110 Congress to
reauthorize the ESA.
In the 110th Congress, the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, P.L. 110-246, included a
provision amending the Internal Revenue Code to permit the deduction of expenditures for th
endangered species recovery. On species of international concern, the 110 Congress enacted P.L.
110-132, reauthorizing the African Elephant Conservation Act and the Rhinoceros and Tiger
Conservation Act of 1994 through FY2012, and P.L. 110-133, reauthorizing the Asian Elephant
Conservation Act through FY2012. A number of bills introduced in both the House and Senate to
address global climate change included provisions that would have allocated funds to the FWS
endangered species program and to related funds to assist species adaptation to climate change.
This report identifies and discusses oversight issues and legislation introduced in the 110th
Congress to address specific concerns related to how ESA is implemented and how endangered
species are managed.
Introduc tion ..................................................................................................................................... 1
Background and Analysis................................................................................................................1
Overvi ew ....................................................................................................................... ............ 1
Major Provisions of Domestic Law..........................................................................................2
Listing ................................................................................................................................. 2
Prohibitions and Penalties...................................................................................................4
Permits and Consultation....................................................................................................4
Exemptions ......................................................................................................................... 5
Emerge ncies ........................................................................................................................ 5
Land Acquisition and Cooperation.....................................................................................6
Miscellane ous .................................................................................................................. ... 6
Major Provisions of International Law.....................................................................................6
Are Species Protection and Restoration Working?...................................................................8
Issues in the 110th Congress...........................................................................................................10
Critical Habitat Designation....................................................................................................10
“Sound Science” and ESA.......................................................................................................11
Court Cases on ESA and Science .....................................................................................13
Endangered Species and Climate Change...............................................................................13
Regional Resource Conflicts...................................................................................................15
Klamath River Basin.........................................................................................................15
Pacific Salmon Restoration...............................................................................................15
Counterpart Regulations: Pesticides and Fire Management Projects......................................18
Private Property and Fifth Amendment Takings.....................................................................19
Additional Legislative Initiatives............................................................................................20
Table 1. Percent Recovery Achieved Versus Time Listed...............................................................9
Table 2. Funding for FWS Endangered Species and Related Programs, FY2006-FY2009.........22
Author Contact Information..........................................................................................................23
Increasing numbers of animal and plant species face possible extinction. Endangered and
threatened species—and the law that protects them, the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA, 16
U.S.C. §§ 1531, et seq.)—are controversial, in part, because dwindling species are often
harbingers of resource scarcity. The most common cause of species’ decline is habitat loss or
alteration. Habitat loss occurs due to development, changes in land management practices,
competition from invasive species, and other factors, nearly all related to economic, political, or 1
ESA has been among the most contentious environmental laws, because of its strict substantive
provisions, which can affect the use of both federal and nonfederal lands and resources. Congress
faces the issue of how to balance these interests (which may fall on various sides of any given
species controversy) with the protection of endangered and threatened species and, as stated in
ESA, “the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend.” Because
of strong support and strong opposition, ESA has not been reauthorized since the last th
authorization expired in 1992. In the 109 Congress, there were several unsuccessful attempts to 2
enact comprehensive legislation that would have reauthorized the ESA. Consequently, th
congressional efforts in the 110 Congress focused on addressing specific controversial features
of ESA and on oversight of concerns such as the science used for making decisions and
designation of critical habitat.
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 ESA is to protect the ecosystems of which listed species are a part.
Under 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 of vertebrate species may also be listed as threatened or endangered. Consequently,
some populations of Chinook, coho, chum, and sockeye salmon in Washington, Oregon, Idaho,
and California have been listed under 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 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 3
tools, or the failure to use them, has led to conflict.
1 For example, see CRS Report RL34326, Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) Drought: Federal Water
Management Issues, by Nicole T. Carter et al.
2 For a review of action by the 109th Congress on ESA, see CRS Report RL33468, The Endangered Species Act (ESA)
in the 109th Congress: Conflicting Values and Difficult Choices, by Eugene H. Buck et al.
3 For additional background, see CRS Report RL31654, The Endangered Species Act: A Primer, by M. Lynne Corn,
Eugene H. Buck, and Kristina Alexander.
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 for the remaining marine and 4
anadromous species. 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 October 20, 2008, a total of 1,183 species of animals and 749 species of plants were listed
as either endangered or threatened under the ESA, of which the majority (612 species of animals
and 746 species of plants) occur in the United States and its territories; the remainder occur only 56
in other countries. Of the 1,358 U.S. species, 1,168 (86.0%) are covered in recovery plans. Of
the U.S. species, 526 (38.7%) have designated critical habitat (CH) in some portion of their 7
However, species don’t exist in isolation, but evolve and fluctuate in abundance because of their
relationships with other species. Conservationists increasingly are talking about ecosystems as the
units of interest, rather than species. 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, including salmon and spotted owls); and the
management of the Apalachicola Basin in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia (allocation of water
among metropolitan, agricultural, and industrial users along with commercial and recreational
interests, as well as one fish and three mussel species).
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 8
procedural steps to ensure public participation and the collection of scientific information. In
4 For background on ESA programs of the two administering agencies, see FWS programs at http://www.fws.gov/
endangered/ and NMFS programs at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/.
5 For comparison, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN; World
Conservation Union) announced in September 2007 that it considered 16,306 species to be threatened with extinction—
an increase of 188 species since 2006. In addition, the IUCN identifies 785 species that have become extinct, with an
additional 65 species found only in captivity or in cultivation. For more information, see http://www.iucn.org/en/news/
6 Daily updated statistics are available at http://ecos.fws.gov/tess_public/Boxscore.do.
7 A list of species with designated CH is available at http://ecos.fws.gov/tess_public/CriticalHabitat.do?listings=
8 For a more detailed discussion of the listing process, see http://www.fws.gov/endangered/pdfs/listing/listing.pdf and
deciding whether a species warrants the protections of ESA, the Secretary may not take into
account the economic effects that listing may have; economic and other considerations are taken 9
into account in structuring alternatives for assisting the species after listing.
In addition, FWS and NMFS may identify selected species by adding them to a list of candidate
species that are believed to be at sufficient risk to warrant protection, but whose protection is
precluded by work to protect listed species. As of October 20, 2008, there were 283 species on the 10
list of candidate species.
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 11
species’ recovery. 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 October 20, 2008, FWS had designated CH for 38.7% of listed
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 for 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 12
it does not take into 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 13
study in April 2005 concluding that CH designation enhances species recovery. On April 28,
protection and ESA. One of the conclusions of participants in this study was that identifying 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.
Although recovery plans are not enforceable, preventing adverse modification of CH is
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 ESA’s prohibitions on 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
9 For an analysis of when and how ESA allows consideration of economic factors, see CRS Report RL30792, The
Endangered Species Act: Consideration of Economic Factors, by Pamela Baldwin.
10 The list of candidate species is available at http://ecos.fws.gov/tess_public/SpeciesReport.do?listingType=C.
11 For additional background on CH, see CRS Report RS20263, Designation of Critical Habitat under the Endangered
Species Act (ESA), by Pamela Baldwin.
12 Sierra Club v. FWS, 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); Gifford Pinchot Task Force v. FWS, 378 F. 3d 1059 (9th Cir. 2004).
13 See http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/programs/policy/ch/bioscience2005.pdf.
14 Available at http://www.keystone.org/spp/documents/ESA%20Report%20FINAL%204%2025%2006%20(2).pdf.
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).
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 by regulation at 50 C.F.R.
§ 17.3). There has been controversy over the extent to which habitat modification is prohibited. A
reasonable interpretation of the term “harm” in ESA. ESA provides civil and criminal penalties
FWS or NMFS do not initiate the permitting process—agencies and individuals wishing to avoid
ESA violations contact FWS or NMFS to initiate consultation that may conclude with permit
issuance. Proposed actions that may have adverse impacts on listed species may be permitted in
two ways. First, under Section 7 of 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. This does not
apply in those instances where a law requires a federal agency to take only certain specific actions 16
in order to satisfy the law, according to a 2007 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. 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 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 Species Committee.
For actions without a federal nexus (i.e., no federal funding, permit, or license), the appropriate
Secretary may issue permits under Section 10 of ESA to allow the incidental take of species 17
during otherwise lawful actions. An applicant for a permit must submit a habitat conservation
plan (HCP) that shows the likely impact of the planned action; steps taken to minimize and
mitigate the impact; funding for the mitigation; alternatives considered and rejected; and any
other measures 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).
15 See CRS Report 95-778, Habitat Modification and the Endangered Species Act: The Sweet Home Decision, by
16 National Association of Home Builders v. Defenders of Wildlife, 127 S. Ct. 1258 (2007).
17 For additional background on FWS’s permitting program, see http://www.fws.gov/endangered/pdfs/permits.pdf.
On August 15, 2008, the Administration published regulations allowing federal action agencies to
decide independently whether agency projects might harm ESA-listed species, eliminating project 18
reviews by FWS and/or NMFS scientists. Critics question this proposal, fearing that it could
provide federal agencies, some with little scientific expertise, with an unacceptable degree of 19
discretion in deciding whether or not to comply with ESA. For additional information, see CRS
Report RL34641, Proposed Changes to Regulations Governing Consultation Under the
Endangered Species Act (ESA), by Kristina Alexander and M. Lynne Corn.
Proponents of a federal action may apply for an exemption from the prohibition against jeopardy
for that action (not for a species). Under ESA, an Endangered Species Committee (sometimes
referred to as 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
committee must grant an exemption if the Secretary of Defense determines that an exemption is
necessary for national security (16 U.S.C. § 1536). The Department of Defense (DOD) has
claimed that requirements under ESA conflict with its readiness activities, but DOD has not
requested any exemptions to date. Other statutes may provide for waivers of ESA provisions; for
example, Section 102(c) of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 20
1996 provides for a waiver of ESA and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to the
extent the Attorney General determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of barriers
and roads at borders. The Secretary of Homeland Security has the authority to waive the ESA 21
(and other laws) “to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads” at the border.
Secretary Chertoff invoked this waiver for different portions of the Mexican border fence in 2005
and two times in 2007.
In the 110th Congress, Section 3 of H.R. 6895 would exempt construction and operation of a
nuclear facility, approved under an accelerated procedure, from ESA.
50 C.F.R. Section 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
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.”
18 73 Fed. Reg. 47868-47875 (August 15, 2008).
19 Juliet Eilperin, “Endangered Species Act Changes Give Agencies More Say,” Washington Post, August 12, 2008, p.
20 Division C of P.L. 104-208; 110 Stat. 3009-554.
21 P.L. 109-13, 119 Stat. 231.
The appropriate Secretary generally must develop a recovery plan for the survival and
conservation (defined in Section 3(3) of 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).
On July 31, 2008, FWS published guidance on the use of a crediting framework in carrying out
recovery measures, allowing federal agencies to offset adverse effects on listed species by 22
beneficial actions taken elsewhere. Under this guidance, federal agencies would create
conservation “banks” by paying private landowners to conserve species, allowing federal
agencies to offset activities (e.g., military training exercises, oil and gas exploration and
development, federal timber sales) on public land that could harm species. Critics of this guidance
question whether the level of accountability for and enforcement of actions on private land would
protect listed species comparable to what federal agencies are required to provide on public lands.
The federal government may acquire land to conserve or recover listed species, and 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 appropriation.
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 ESA went into
effect, and specify rules for establishing experimental populations (16 U.S.C. § 1539).
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 ESA by dividing its listed species into
22 73 Fed. Reg. 44761-44772.
groups, according to the estimated risk of extinction, but uses three major categories (called 23
Appendices), rather than two. In contrast to ESA, CITES classifies species based solely on the
risk that trade poses to their survival. ESA makes violations of CITES violations of U.S. law if
committed within U.S. jurisdiction (16 U.S.C. § 1538). ESA also regulates import and export of 24
controlled products and provides some exceptions.
Under CITES, the Conference of Parties (COP) convenes every two to three years. At these
meetings, the parties vote on adopting amendments to Appendices I and II, review the progress of
the Convention in meeting its goals, and make recommendations for improving CITES. The most
recent COP was held in June 2007 in The Hague, Netherlands. Several decisions regarding the
listing of species were discussed, including denying a proposal to review restrictions on whales,
listing species of sawfish and European eel, denying listing proposals for some species of sharks
and coral, approving some trade in ivory before a nine-year ban, and addressing tiger farming and
illegal logging. The next COP will be held in Doha, Qatar, in 2010.
In the 110th Congress, the House Committee on Natural Resources held hearings on the effects of
domestic and international illegal wildlife trade on endangered and threatened species.
International illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth more than $10 billion annually and has
been associated with the decline of species, spread of disease, and proliferation of invasive
species, among other things. The United States is considered one of the largest importers of
illegal wildlife and wildlife products. CITES as well as the Lacey Act are two of the primary
policy mechanisms that address the illegal wildlife trade. Several legislative proposals were th
introduced in the 110 Congress to address illegal wildlife trade. These measures centered on
establishing a list of acceptable species that could enter the United States and increasing the 25
enforcement capacity of FWS to address illegal trade.
In addition, FWS’s Multinational Species Conservation Fund (MSCF) 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 26
conservation efforts benefitting these species, often in conjunction with efforts under CITES.
In the 110th Congress, P.L. 110-132 reauthorized the African Elephant Conservation Act and the
Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act of 1994 through FY2012, and P.L. 110-133 reauthorized
the Asian Elephant Conservation Act through FY2012. Other bills were introduced to deal with
• Several bills would have expanded species eligible for assistance from the MSCF
by creating a Great Cats Conservation Fund (H.R. 1913), a Great Cats and Rare
Canids Conservation Fund (H.R. 1464 and S. 1033), and a Crane Conservation
Fund (H.R. 1771 and S. 1048). On September 6, 2007, the House Natural
Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Oceans held a hearing on
H.R. 1913, H.R. 1464, and H.R. 1771. On May 19, 2008, the House Committee
23 For additional information on CITES, see http://www.cites.org/.
24 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.
25 For more information on illegal wildlife trade, see CRS Report RL34395, International Illegal Trade in Wildlife:
Threats and U.S. Policy, by Liana Sun Wyler and Pervaze A. Sheikh.
26 For more information on the MSCF, see CRS Report RS21157, Multinational Species Conservation Fund, by
Pervaze A. Sheikh and M. Lynne Corn.
on Natural Resources reported (amended) H.R. 1464 (H.Rept. 110-657); the
House passed this bill (amended) on May 20, 2008. On September 24, 2008, the
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works reported (amended) H.R.
1464 (S.Rept. 110-492). On May 13, 2008, the House Committee on Natural
Resources reported (amended) H.R. 1771 (H.Rept. 110-635); the House passed
this bill (amended) on May 21, 2008. On September 24, 2008, the Senate
Committee on Environment and Public Works reported H.R. 1771 (S.Rept. 110-
• H.R. 1497 would have amended the Lacey Act Amendments of 1981 to extend
protection to plants illegally harvested outside of the United States; the bill was
reported (amended) by the House Committee on Natural Resources on September
• H.R. 4455 would have authorized the Secretary of the Interior to provide
international wildlife management and conservation programs through FWS’s
Wildlife Without Borders Program; on June 24, 2008, the House Natural
Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Oceans held a hearing on
• H.R. 5756 and S. 3490 would have reauthorized the Neotropical Migratory Bird
Conservation Act through FY2015.
• S.Res. 598 expressed the sense of the Senate regarding the need for the United
States to lead international efforts to assist developing nations in preventing the
extinction of a large portion of the world’s plant and animal species; this measure
was reported by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on September 23,
• H.R. 6862 would have reauthorized the Marine Turtle Conservation Act of 2004
The answer to this question depends on what is measured. Since a major goal of ESA is the
recovery of species to the point at which ESA protection is no longer necessary, this seems a good
starting point. In the 25 years since the ESA was enacted in 1973, 48 U.S. and foreign species or 27
distinct population segments thereof have been delisted. The reasons cited by FWS are (a)
recovery (22 species); (b) extinction (9 species; however, some may have been extinct when
listed); and (c) original data in error (17 species). Recovered species include alligators,
Yellowstone grizzly bear, bald eagle, brown pelican, 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, the ivory-
billed woodpecker, thought by many to be extinct, was believed to have been rediscovered in a
remote area of Arkansas a few years ago; it might just as easily have quietly gone extinct without
being rediscovered. Rare species are, by definition, hard to find.
27 For updated information, see http://ecos.fws.gov/tess_public/DelistingReport.do.
Some have asserted that ESA is a failure since only 17 species have been delisted as recovered.28
Others note that full recoveries are relatively few because the two principal causes of extinction—
habitat loss and invasive non-native species—continue to increase. 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, 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, 29
and this too might be considered a measure of success, although these species are still rare.
On May 17, 2005, the House Committee on Resources released an oversight report entitled 30
Implementation of the Endangered Species Act of 1973. 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.
Table 1. Percent Recovery Achieved Versus Time Listed
(data as of September 30, 2002)
Recovery Plan objectives % species listed % species listed % species listed
5 years or less 6-10 years 11+ years
0%-25% recovery achieved 96 94 64
26%-50% recovery achieved 4 5.5 24
51%-75% recovery achieved 0 0.25 9
76%-100% recovery achieved 0 0.25 3
Source: FWS, Recovery Report to Congress: Fiscal Years 2001-2002, p. 13.
An April 2005 study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) 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 31
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. In 2006, 32
GAO examined federal efforts to recover 31 selected species. GAO determined that, while
28 Delisted species are identified at http://ecos.fws.gov/tess_public/DelistingReport.do.
29 See CRS Report 98-32, Endangered Species List Revisions: A Summary of Delisting and Downlisting, by Robert J.
30 Available at http://republicans.resourcescommittee.house.gov/archives/ii00/issues/more/esa/
31 U.S. 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.
32 U.S. Government Accountability Office, Endangered Species: Many Factors Affect the Length of Time to Recover
Select Species, GAO-06-730 (Washington, DC: GPO, September 8, 2006). In this report, GAO acknowledged that
results from nonprobability (i.e., non-random) 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.
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.
ESA reauthorization has been on the legislative agenda since the funding authorization expired in
endangered species protection. Issues for the 110 Congress included effects of ESA on private
and federal land use, promotion of species recovery, agency use of scientific information, specific
regional resource conflicts, and other matters. Below are descriptions of some of the issues that
were considered, either in oversight or legislation.
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 33
over the value and timing of CH designation. (See “Critical Habitat,” above.)
Section 15303 of P.L. 110-246, the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, amended the
Internal Revenue Code to permit the deduction of expenditures for endangered species recovery. th
The 110 Congress considered several proposals to provide compensation to landowners who
voluntarily provide habitat to threatened or endangered species:
• S. 700; H.R. 1422; S. 2223, as reported by the Senate Committee on Finance on
October 24, 2007 (S.Rept. 110-205); Section 204 of S. 2242, as reported on
October 25, 2007, by the Senate Committee on Finance (S.Rept. 110-206); and
Section 12204 of H.R. 2419, as passed by the Senate on December 14, 2007,
would have amended the Internal Revenue Code to provide a tax credit to
individuals who enter into agreements to protect habitat for endangered and
threatened species. This provision was deleted from H.R. 2419 in conference
• H.R. 1551, H.R. 1600, H.R. 2144, H.R. 2401, S. 919, and S. 1424 would have
established a priority for protecting and restoring habitat for federally or state-
listed rare, threatened, endangered, and candidate species in various agricultural
33 For details on how legislation in the 109th Congress sought to address this issue, see CRS Report RL33468, The
Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the 109th Congress: Conflicting Values and Difficult Choices, by Eugene H. Buck et
ESA requires that determinations of species status be made “solely on the basis of the best 34
scientific and commercial data available.... ” In several recent situations, legal, economic, and
social disputes have resulted from actions under ESA. Examples of these controversies include
the Florida panther, Klamath River Basin suckers and coho salmon, and Sonoran Desert bald 35
eagles. 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. 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 species.
ESA does not elaborate on this question, but some assert that, given the protective purpose of
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. This is the
position taken on pages 1-7 of the joint FWS/NMFS 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 36
information becomes available. 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
In the 110th Congress, the House Committee on Natural Resources held an oversight hearing on 37
May 9, 2007, on political influence and scientific integrity in ESA implementation. In addition,
several bills were introduced:
• H.Res. 487 expressed the sense of the House recognizing the contributions of
modeling and simulation technology; the House agreed to this measure on July
34 16 U.S.C. § 1533(b)(1)(A).
35 See CRS Report RL32992, The Endangered Species Act and “Sound Science”, by Eugene H. Buck et al.
36 Available at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/laws/esa_section7_handbook.pdf.
37 For more on this issue, see U.S. Government Accountability Office, Endangered Species Act Decision Making,
GAO-08-688T, May 21, 2008, 66 p.
• H.R. 3459 would have amended ESA to require FWS to publish a summary
statement of the scientific basis for a listing or delisting decision or the
designation of CH.
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 disseminated by federal agencies. OMB published final guidelines on February 22, 38
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
FWS and NMFS developed an Interagency Cooperative Policy on Information Standards Under 40
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 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 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 41
Endangered Species Act Activities, 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.
38 67 Fed. Reg. 8452.
39 For example, see http://www.fws.gov/stand/standards/process_WWW.html.
40 59 Fed. Reg. 34271, July 1, 1994.
41 59 Fed. Reg. 34270, July 1, 1994.
Courts that have considered the “best data available” language have held that an agency is not 43
obliged to conduct studies to obtain missing data, but cannot ignore available biological 4445
information, especially if the ignored information is the most current. Nor may an agency treat 46
one species differently from other similarly situated species, nor decline to list a dwindling
species and wait until it is on the brink of extinction in relying on possible but uncertain future 47
actions of an agency. “Best scientific and commercial data available” is not a standard of
absolute certainty, reflecting Congress’s intent that FWS take conservation measures before a 48
species is conclusively headed for 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 49
scientific ... data available, not the best scientific data possible.”
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 related to the problems causing the 50
decline of a species, especially when other interests are adversely affected. In Arizona Cattle 51
Growers Association v. United States Fish and Wildlife Service, 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 Section 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 52
rational connection between these facts and the choices made.
In the absence of federal regulatory action on climate change, environmental groups are eyeing
use of the Endangered Species Act (among other approaches) as a means of restricting
greenhouse gas emissions. This approach is still in the embryonic stage. The idea, as spearheaded
by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), is to petition FWS and NMFS to list as endangered
or threatened various animals whose habitat is or will be adversely affected by climate change.
42 For more information, see CRS Report RL32992, The Endangered Species Act and “Sound Science”, by Eugene H.
Buck et al.
43 Southwest Center for Biological Diversity v. Babbitt, 215 F. 3d 58 (D.C. Cir. 2000).
44 Connor v. Burford, 848 F. 2d 1441 (9th Cir. 1988).
45 Southwest Center for Biological Diversity v. Babbitt, 926 F. Supp. 920 (D.C. Ariz. 1996).
47 Biodiversity Legal Foundation v. Babbitt, 943 F. Supp. 23 (D. D.C. 1996).
48 Defenders of Wildlife v. Babbitt, 958 F. Supp. 670, 679-680 (D. D.C. 1997).
49 Building Industry Ass’n of Sup. Cal. v. Norton, 247 F. 3d 1241, 1246-1267 (D.C. Cir. 2001), cert. denied 2002 U.S.
50 See Connor v. Andrus (453 F. Supp. 1037 (W.D. Tex. 1978)) striking down regulations totally banning duck hunting
in an area to protect one listed species of duck.
51 273 F. 3d 1229 (9th Cir. 2001).
52 Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Inc. v. NMFS, 265 F.3d 1028, 1034 (9th Cir. 2001).
(CBD has already done so for several species, including the polar bear.53) Once listed, the
argument would be made that sources of substantial greenhouse gas emissions, such as coal-fired
powerplants, cause an unlawful “take” of these species under ESA Section 9 by the effect such
emissions have, via climate change, on the species’ habitat. This could force negotiation of an
incidental take permit for the source with greenhouse gas-limiting terms and conditions. Note that
“take” is defined in the ESA to include “harm” to a member of a listed species, and “harm,” in
turn, is defined by regulation to include certain “significant habitat modification[s] or
degradation[s].” Additionally, federal agencies proposing to issue permits for the construction or
modification of greenhouse gas sources would be required, the argument runs, to initiate Section 54
Any effort to address climate change through the ESA will encounter several obstacles, chief
among them whether the causal link between greenhouse gas emissions and habitat harm is too
attenuated to fall within the ESA’s prohibitions and requirements. The ESA also provides federal
agencies with various tools to minimize ESA/climate change conflicts, such as Section 4(d)
“special rules” for threatened species.
In May 2008, FWS listed the polar bear as threatened, catapulting the above Section 7, Section 9,
and 4(d)-rule mechanisms to the fore. In connection with the listing, FWS made abundantly clear
its opposition to use of the ESA to address climate change. First, it issued a 4(d) rule for the polar
bear specifically excluding from the Section 9 take prohibition “any taking of polar bears that is
incidental to, but not the purpose of ... an otherwise lawful activity ...” The effect of the
exemption would appear to be that a coal-fired power plant could not be deemed to “take” polar
bears through its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Second, FWS argued in the listing preamble
that today’s science has not established a causal connection between specific sources of GHG
emissions and specific impacts to polar bears or their habitat, concluding that the Section 7
consultation mechanism would not be triggered by federal actions leading to greater GHG
emissions (e.g., permitting of fossil-fuel-fired power plants). In addition, amendments to the
consultation regulations proposed in August 2008 would make it even less likely that consultation
would be triggered by GHG emissions.
In the 110th Congress, provisions in S. 317, S. 1177, and S. 1554 would have amended the Clean
Air Act to provide funding for programs and projects conserving habitat for endangered species
and species of conservation concern that are vulnerable to the impact of climate change. In
addition, Section 402(e)(3)(C)(iv) of S. 1766; Section 7456(a)(2) of H.R. 3220/H.R. 3221;
Section 4702 of S. 2191 and S. 3036; Section 114 of S. 2204; Section 106 of H.R. 2338; Subtitle
G of H.R. 6186; Subtitle B, Part 2 of H.R. 6316; and Section 456 of H.R. 2337, as reported
(amended) on August 3, 2007 (H.Rept. 110-296, Part I), would have allocated funds to the FWS
endangered species programs and to related funds to assist species adaptation to climate change.
The House passed H.R. 3221 (amended) on August 4, 2007; the Senate passed this measure
(amended) on April 10, 2008, without the House-passed provisions relating to endangered
species. On May 20, 2008, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works reported
(amended) S. 2191 (S.Rept. 110-337). S. 3071 would have amended the ESA to temporarily
53 For additional information on the polar bear, see CRS Report RL33941, Polar Bears: Listing Under the Endangered
Species Act, by Eugene H. Buck, M. Lynne Corn, and Kristina Alexander.
54 For additional information, see CRS Report RS22906, Use of the Polar Bear Listing to Force Reduction of
Greenhouse Gas Emissions: The Legal Arguments, by Robert Meltz.
prohibit the Secretary of the Interior from considering global climate change as a natural or
manmade factor in determining whether a species is a threatened or endangered species.
One express purpose of 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 wildlands and natural
resources, efforts at conserving 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.
Controversy erupted in 2001 when the 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 for the Bureau’s role in the Central Valley Project. Ten-year and annual
operation plans, and associated biological assessments (by the Bureau) and biological opinions 55
(by FWS and NMFS) have been variously criticized and defended. On July 31, 2007, the House
Natural Resources Committee held an oversight hearing on allegations of political intervention
influencing scientific and policy decisions at the Department of the Interior, with respect to
Klamath River salmon.
A proposed agreement has been drafted among Klamath River stakeholders to address conflicting 56
water management objectives. The parties to this proposed agreement have indicated that, if the
agreement is finalized, they will seek legislative support from Congress.
Salmon protection in the Pacific Northwest presents many difficult choices, especially because of
recent droughts and the connection between regional hydropower facilities and fishery
55 For more information, see CRS Report RL31098, Klamath River Basin Issues: An Overview of Water Use Conflicts,
by Betsy A. Cody, Pamela Baldwin, and Eugene H. Buck.
56 See http://www.edsheets.com/Klamathdocs.html.
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. In 2007, the hatchery listing policy of NMFS was ruled invalid by a federal court,
in part because the court found it scientifically questionable to include hatchery-raised fish under 57
an act designed to protect wild fish. 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 58
salmon to the sea.
Section 4073 of P.L. 110-114 required a feasibility study of fish passage improvements in th
Oregon. Several additional measures relating to salmon restoration were introduced in the 110
• H.R. 24, H.R. 4074, S. 27, and Title X of S. 3213 would have authorized the 59
implementation of the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement providing for
the reintroduction of Chinook salmon; the House Natural Resources
Subcommittee on Water and Power held a hearing on H.R. 24 on March 1, 2007,
and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power
held a hearing on S. 27 on May 3, 2007. On May 13, 2008, the House Committee
on Natural Resources reported H.R. 4074 (H.Rept. 110-633). On June 25, 2008,
the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources reported (amended) S.
• Section 103 of H.R. 860 and S. 493 would have designated salmon restoration
areas in California.
• H.R. 1507 would have directed the Secretary of Commerce to seek scientific
analysis of federal efforts to restore salmon and steelhead listed under the ESA.
• H.R. 1769 would have amended the Marine Mammal Protection Act to authorize
the taking of California sea lions on the Columbia River to protect ESA-listed
salmon; the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and
Oceans held a hearing on this bill on August 2, 2007.
• Section 127 of S. 1696, as reported by the Senate Committee on Appropriations
(S.Rept. 110-91), would have directed the Department of the Interior to
implement provisions identified in the NMFS and FWS Upper Snake River Basin
57 Trout Unlimited v. Lohn, No. CV06-0483-JCC, 2007 WL 1795036 (W.D. Wash. June 13, 2007).
58 For details on how legislation in the 109th Congress proposed to address this issue, see CRS Report RL33468, The
Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the 109th Congress: Conflicting Values and Difficult Choices, by Eugene H. Buck et
59 For additional information on this settlement, see CRS Report RL34237, San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement,
by Betsy A. Cody et al.
Biological Opinions, regardless of court ruling. This provision was not retained
in P.L. 110-161, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008.
• S. 3608 would have established a Salmon Stronghold Partnership program to
protect wild Pacific salmon.
Delta smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus) is a small, slender-bodied fish found only in the San
Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin Rivers Delta in California (Bay-Delta), where they
were once abundant. The species was listed as threatened under ESA in 1993 and, in recent years,
species abundance has declined to the lowest ever observed. The Delta smelt decline is
potentially attributed to a combination of several factors, including entrainment in water export
pumps, competition and predation from exotic fish species, toxic contaminants, changes in habitat 60
size and quality, and changes in food supply. The contribution of each factor in causing the
species decline is controversial. Some contend that entrainment in water pumps is the primary
cause, whereas others argue that all causes might be more or less equally responsible for the 61
The Delta smelt decline has significant consequences for the operation of the Central Valley
Project (CVP) and the State Water Project (SWP), which supply water to much of California. If
entrainment by water pumps is largely responsible for the decline of Delta smelt, changes in how
these pumps are operated might be required to satisfy ESA requirements. These requirements
could result in reduced pumping and less water for users.
To address the impact of pumping on Delta smelt, an ESA Section 7 consultation between FWS
and the Bureau was conducted. FWS issued a no-jeopardy biological opinion (BiOp) with regard
to impacts on Delta smelt by the operations of the CVP and SWP in 2004, and re-issued the BiOp
in 2005 to address potential critical habitat issues of the Delta smelt brought up by the Bureau. In 62
May 2007, the FWS BiOp was found not to comply with ESA with regard to Delta smelt. The
Bureau and FWS reinitiated consultation based on new information on the Delta smelt in 2007.
While the consultation process is underway, the Bureau is implementing interim protective 63
measures required by a court order issued in December 2007.
In the 110th Congress, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power held an
oversight field hearing in Vallejo, CA, on July 2, 2007, on issues related to the status of native
fish populations, including Delta smelt, in the Bay-Delta ecosystem. H.R. 6940 would have
authorized support for the establishment of a fish hatchery program for Delta smelt in the
60 Testimony of Bob Johnson, Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, at House Resources, Subcommittee on
Water and Power Hearing on The Immediate Federal and State Role in Addressing Uncertain Water Deliveries for ndth
California and the Impacts on California Communities, 2 Sess. 110 Congress, January 29, 2008.
61 In 2005, the Pelagic Organism Decline working group was created to address the decline in fish and zooplankton
populations in the Bay-Delta. They hypothesized that pelagic fish decline could be a result of three factors acting
individually or together. These factors included (1) toxic contaminants, (2) exotic species, and (3) water project effects.
Based on this hypothesis, the group developed a set of conceptual models to explain pelagic fish decline. Their results
have so far been inconclusive and more research is planned for 2008. See Pelagic Organism Decline Progress Report:
2007 Synthesis of Results, at http://www.fws.gov/sacramento/es/documents/POD_report_2007.pdf.
62 NRDC v. Kempthorne, 506 F. Supp. 2d 322 (E.D. Cal. 2007).
63 NRDC v. Kempthorne, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 91968 (E.D. Cal. December 14, 2007).
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and temporarily exempts two pumping plants from ESA take
ESA regulations found at 50 C.F.R. Section 402.30 and Section 402.40 are referred to as
counterpart regulations. These regulations allow certain action agencies to determine whether
their actions jeopardize a listed species without having to consult as required by ESA Section 7.
Counterpart pesticide regulations were promulgated by the U.S. Environmental Protection 64
Agency (EPA) for regulatory actions on pesticides. Under the regulations, when EPA takes
action under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA; P.L. 80-104; 7
U.S.C. §§ 136, et seq.), EPA would decide whether a proposed FIFRA action is likely to
adversely affect a listed species or critical habitat. EPA would make this determination without
consultation with, and written concurrence from, the FWS Director, if an alternative consultation
agreement is executed. FWS would not review the determination for consistency with ESA.
On August 24, 2006, the District Court for the Western District of Washington overturned the
pesticide counterpart regulations, ruling that these regulations did not conform to the plain
language or intent of ESA Section 7 by excusing federal action agencies from engaging in 65
consultation. The court let stand the “optional formal consultation” process, in which NMFS or
FWS can adopt EPA effects determinations as their own.
National Fire Plan (NFP) counterpart regulations were promulgated by the Forest Service, Bureau 66
of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Park Service, FWS, and NMFS. 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. The District Court for the
District of Columbia held that the Alternative Consultation Agreement was not an improper 67
bypass of ESA Section 7. In contrast to the pesticide counterpart regulations, the services must
determine that the action agencies’ actions are consistent with ESA Section 7. A report by the
services of the NFP counterpart regulations found that all ten projects reviewed by NMFS were
deficient in five or six criteria, and 44 out of 50 projects reviewed by FWS missed at least one of 68
six criteria, with 19 missing all six.
64 69 Fed. Reg. 47732 (August 5, 2004); 50 C.F.R. Part 402, Subpart D.
65 Washington Toxics Coalition v. U.S. Department of the Interior, 457 F. Supp. 2d 1158 (W.D. Wa. 2006); see
66 68 Fed. Reg. 68254 (December 8, 2003); 50 C.F.R. Part 402, Subpart C.
67 Defenders of Wildlife v. Kempthorne, No. 04-1230, 2006 WL 2844232 (D.D.C. September 29, 2006).
68 NMFS, FWS, FS, and BLM, Use of the ESA Section 7 Counterpart Regulations for Projects that Support the
National Fire Plan, Program Review: Year One (Jan. 11, 2008), 24 p.; Available at http:www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/
The prohibitions in Section 9 (private actions) and Section 7 (federal nexus) at times frustrate the
economic desires of owners of land or other property. This has long been a rallying cry for ESA’s
detractors, who assert that restrictions under ESA routinely “take” property in the constitutional 69
sense of the term. Conflicts between 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, through regulation, a total elimination of its economic
use. When the government regulation removes only part, but not all, of the property’s use or 70
value, a three-factor balancing test is used to determine whether a taking has occurred. Although
these factors have been little explicated by the courts, it is clear that for a 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.
Roughly 20 court decisions have addressed takings challenges to ESA restrictions on land or
other property, with all but two finding no taking. These cases have involved restrictions on
timber cutting, reductions in water delivery to preserve instream flows needed by listed species (a
particularly active area now), 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. Of the two decisions
favoring the property owner, one, involving reduced water delivery to a water district owing to
the need to maintain in-stream flows for listed fish, has been repudiated by the judge who wrote 71
it. The other, however, instructs that when government requires water subject to appropriative
water rights to be physically diverted to a fish ladder (here, for the use of a listed species), the 72
diversion must be analyzed under a physical rather than regulatory taking theory. Under such a
theory, as noted, the holder of water rights is likely to win its taking claim. The United States is
now seeking reconsideration of this decision.
Critics want 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. Provisions to that effect have been
69 See CRS Report RL31796, The Endangered Species Act and Claims of Property Rights “Takings,” by Robert Meltz.
70 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 is even appropriate to call the three factors a test.
71 See Casitas Municipal Water Dist. v. United States, 76 Fed Cl. 100 (2007), aff’d in part, reversed in part on other
grounds, 543 F.3d 1276 (Fed. Cir. 2008), holding to the contrary of Tulare Lake Basin Water Storage Dist. v. United
States, 49 Fed. Cl. 313 (2001).
72 Casitas Municipal Water Dist., 543 F.3d 1276.
included in bills of previous Congresses, although not in recent ones. Opponents of an explicit
compensation standard counter that ESA should not be singled out for a more property owner-
friendly standard than other statutes or the Constitution. 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 110th Congress enacted P.L. 110-229, including Section 515 authorizing the Secretary of the
Interior to participate in the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program for Endangered
Species in the Central and Lower Platte River Basin. On May 1, 2007, the Senate agreed to S.Res.
125, designating May 18, 2007, as “Endangered Species Day.” On this same date, the Senate also
agreed to S.Res. 146 supporting the goals of June 20, 2007, as “American Eagle Day,” to
celebrate the recovery and restoration of the American bald eagle; the House agreed to similar
language (H.Res. 341) on June 5, 2007. On June 18, 2008, the House agreed to H.Res. 1247, th
supporting the goals and ideals of “American Eagle Day.” The 110 Congress considered a
variety of additional ESA issues, although none were enacted:
• Section 901 of S. 1892 would have required a Coast Guard report on efforts taken
from FY2000 through 2007 to protect endangered sea turtles and marine
mammals; the Senate Committee on Committee on Commerce, Science, and
Transportation reported (amended) this measure on February 5, 2008 (S.Rept.
• On January 17, 2008, the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and
Global Warming held a hearing on the delay by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 73
announcing their decision on whether to list polar bears as threatened. H.R.
5058, H.R. 5588, and S. 2568 would have prohibited the Secretary of the Interior
from leasing any tract in the Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 193 off Alaska until the
Secretary determined whether to list the polar bear as a threatened or endangered
species. On January 30, 2008, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public
Works held an oversight hearing to examine threats to and protection for polar
bear. On April 2, 2008, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
held an oversight hearing on the listing decision for polar bear under ESA. H.R.
6057 would have amended the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to prohibit oil
and gas leasing and related activities in the Beaufort and Chukchi Sea Planning
Areas unless certain conditions were met. H.R. 6936 would have amended the
Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) to allow importing polar bear trophies
taken in Canadian sport hunts before the polar bear was listed as a threatened
species. H.R. 7171 would have amended the MMPA to allow the importation of
polar bear trophies taken in sport hunts in Canada.
• H.R. 1917 would have amended 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; the House Committee
on Natural Resources held a hearing on this measure on April 24, 2007.
73 For additional information, see CRS Report RL33941, Polar Bears: Listing Under the Endangered Species Act, by
Eugene H. Buck, M. Lynne Corn, and Kristina Alexander.
• S. 658 would have amended ESA to modify the processes for species listing and
delisting as well as recovery planning.
• The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held an oversight field
hearing on ESA impacts on the gas industry on August 23, 2007.
• S. 424 would have directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to implement the
Penobscot River Restoration Project, benefitting endangered Atlantic salmon and
• H.R. 2530 would have required certain electricity consumers to be informed of
ESA compliance costs.
• H.R. 3156 and S. 1860 would have modified how certain endangered species
offenses might be prosecuted.
• H.R. 3639 would have established a research program for recovery of the
southern sea otter.
• H.R. 3847 and S. 2165 would have amended ESA to provide for suspension of
ESA provisions during droughts for federal and state agencies that manage river
basins within regions affected by drought.
• S.Res. 456 would have directed the United States to undertake bilateral
discussions with Canada to negotiate an agreement to conserve endangered large
whales that migrate along the Atlantic coast. S. 2657 and H.R. 5536 would have
required the Secretary of Commerce to prescribe regulations to reduce the
incidence of vessels colliding with North Atlantic right whales by limiting vessel
speed. On July 22, 2008, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and
Transportation reported (amended) S. 2657 (S.Rept. 110-429).
• S.Res. 520 would have designated May 16, 2008, as “Endangered Species Day.”
• S.Res. 583 would have designated June 20, 2008, as “American Eagle Day,” to
celebrate recovery and restoration of the bald eagle.
• S. 3189 and H.R. 7169 would have amended P.L. 106-392 to extend the
authorizations for the Upper Colorado and San Juan River Basin endangered fish
recovery programs; S. 3189 was reported (amended) by the Senate Committee on
Energy and Natural Resources on September 16, 2008.
• H.R. 7032, Section 33 of H.R. 6428, Section 238 of H.R. 6779, and Section 610
of H.R. 7239 would have directed the Secretary of the Interior to establish
regional OCS Joint Permitting Offices, with expertise in ESA Section 7
consultations and preparation of biological opinions.
Appropriations play an important role in the ESA debate, providing funds for listing and recovery
activities as well as financing consultations that are necessary for federal projects. In addition,
appropriations bills have served as vehicles for some changes in ESA.
Table 2 summarizes recent ESA and related funding for FWS. President Bush signed P.L. 110-
161 (H.R. 2764, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008) into law, providing more than $236
million for FWS’s ESA and related programs.
Table 2. Funding for FWS Endangered Species and Related Programs,
($ in thousands)
FY2006 FY2007 FY2007 FY2008 FY2008 FY2009
Enacted Request Enacted Request Enacted Request
Endangered Species Program
Candidate 8,619 8,063 8,425 8,635 9,731 8,659
Listing 17,630 17,759 17,824 18,263 17,978 18,188
Consultation 47,997 49,337 49,179 51,578 51,758 51,577
Recovery 73,562 65,879 69,551 68,067 71,041 68,417
Subtotal 147,808 141,038 144,979 146,543 150,508 146,841
Landowner Incentive 21,667 24,400 23,667 0 0 0
Stewardship Grants 7,277 9,400 7,277 0 0 0
Endangered Species a80,001 80,001 81,001 80,001 73,831 75,501
Multinational Species b6,404 8,217 6,404 4,257 7,875 4,256
Neotropical Bird Fundb 3,941 0 3,941 3,960 4,430 3,960
Total FWS 267,098 263,056 266,962 234,761 236,644 230,558
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, LWCF provided $23.667 million; for FY2008, the Administration requested all
$80.001 million from LWCF and the Omnibus provided $49.773 from the LWCF.
b. From FY2002 through FY2007, the President’s budget proposed subsuming the Neotropical Migratory Bird
Fund within the Multinational Species Conservation Fund; Congress rejected this proposal.
On February 4, 2008, the Bush Administration released its FY2009 budget request, including
more than $230 million for ESA-related programs withing FWS. The FY2009 request for ESA
program funding for FWS under their Ecological Services Account is $3.67 million (2.44%) less
than funding enacted for FY2008. Species and programs to receive decreased funding include the
Pacific salmon recovery grants: -$1,477,000
General consultation: -$984,000
Idaho sage grouse: -$246,000
Wolf monitoring: -$246,000
Lahontan cutthroat trout: -$246,000
Condor recovery: -$246,000
Under the Administration’s proposal, total FWS funding for all ESA-related programs would
decrease by about $6.09 million (2.57%) from that enacted for FY2008.
Division A of P.L. 110-329 provided continuing appropriations for FWS, until March 6, 2009, at
the level of FY2008 appropriations.
Eugene H. Buck
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
M. Lynne Corn
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
Pervaze A. Sheikh
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy