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USFWS issues new ESA definitions

Draft Policy on Interpretation of the Phrase “Significant Portion of Its Range” in the Endangered Species Act's Definitions of “Endangered Species” and “Threatened Species”

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have announced a draft policy to provide interpretation of the phrase “significant portion of its range” in the Endangered Species Act's (Act's) definitions of “endangered species” and “threatened species.”

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Audit Critical of USFWS Monitoring

In a May 2009 audit report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a critical assessment of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tracking of required monitoring reports noting the Service has incomplete information about effects on listed species from Section 7 Consultations.

The western United States, including vast stretches of federal land, is home to more than a third of the 1,317 species listed under the Endangered Species Act. Under Section 7 of the Act, federal agencies must ensure that any actions they authorize, fund, or carry out, whether on federal or private lands, do not jeopardize listed species.

The GAO audit found the Service lacks a means of tracking the monitoring reports it requires in biological opinions and does not know the extent of compliance with these requirements. To track monitoring reports, the Service relies on its biologists to keep abreast of biological opinions and follow up on required monitoring reports. At the field offices GAO visited, Service biologists could not account for all required monitoring reports in 40 of 64 consultation files (63 percent) requiring such reports. Service staff said they face a demanding workload, and responding to new consultation requests often takes higher priority than following up on monitoring reports.

Monitoring reports can play a critical role in the consultation process because they provide an evaluation of and a feedback loop on the effects actions have on listed species and the effectiveness of protective measures taken to minimize the impact of take. The lack of monitoring reports increases the risk of litigation to protect species.

Click here to download a copy of the GAO Audit Report:

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The Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the 111th Congress: Conflicting Values and Difficult Choices

The Endangered Species Act (ESA; P.L. 93-205, 16 U.S.C. 1531-1543) 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.

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GAO Endangered Species Act Report Released

Endangered Species Act:  Many GAO Recommendations Have Been Implemented, but Some Issues Remain Unresolved

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 protects plant and animal species that are either facing extinction (endangered species) or are likely to face extinction in the foreseeable future (threatened species) and protects the ecosystems upon which they depend.  The act includes provisions for listing species that need protection, designating habitat deemed critical to a listed species’ survival, developing recovery plans, and protecting listed species against certain harms caused by federal and nonfederal actions.  Since the act’s inception, more than 1,300 species occurring in the United States or its territories have been placed on the list of threatened and endangered species.  The Department of the Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Department of Commerce’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)—collectively referred to as “the services”—are responsible for administration and implementation of the ESA, but all federal agencies have responsibilities for protecting species under the act. A Government Accountability Office report issued in December of 2008 finds that almost one-third of GAO recommendations issued over the last 10 years to strengthen implementation of the act have not been implemented. 

Specifically, FWS has yet to clarify the role of critical habitat and how and when it should be designated, as recommended in 2002 and 2003.  The critical habitat process has been the subject of significant litigation, largely due to FWS not designating habitat when required, and has consumed significant program resources.  FWS has drafted a policy document that is going through departmental review, and, in 2006, the service convened a team to provide recommendations to the Secretary of the Interior regarding changes to the regulations implementing the act.  FWS does not expect the policy or regulations to be final until the spring of 2009 or later.  Delays have been caused by higher-priority work; court decisions, including adverse rulings; and other policy decisions.  FWS has not issued annual endangered species expenditure reports in a timely fashion, as recommended in 2003.  Reports for fiscal years 2005 and 2006 were issued in December 2008; the report for expenditures in fiscal year 2007 is expected to be issued in early 2009.  An FWS official stated that FWS has issued these reports late because of delays in receiving data from some states, but that the agency is implementing a new process to improve their timeliness in issuing future reports.  

Click here to download and read the complete report: Endangered Species Act: Many GAO Recommendations Have Been Implemented, but Some Issues Remain Unresolved

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Mexican Wolf Conservation Assessment

[Federal Register: January 9, 2009 (Volume 74, Number 6)]DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR - Fish and Wildlife ServiceEndangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Mexican Wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) Conservation AssessmentAGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.ACTION: Notice of availability; draft conservation assessment; request for comments.-----------------------------------------------------------------------SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announce the availability of the Draft Mexican Wolf Conservation Assessment (draft assessment) for public review and comment. The draft assessment provides scientific information relevant to the conservation of the Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) in Arizona and New Mexico as a component of the Service's gray wolf (Canis lupus) recovery efforts. Not required by the Endangered Species Act (Act), the draft assessment is a non-regulatory document that does not require action by any party. We solicit review and comment from the public on this document.DATES: To ensure consideration, we must receive any comments from interested parties no later than March 10, 2009.

Click her to rea the complete Federal Register Notice.

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Review of Bald Eagle in Sonoran Desert

[Federal Register: January 15, 2009 (Volume 74, Number 10)]DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR - Fish and Wildlife ServiceEndangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Status Review of the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in the Sonoran Desert Area of Central Arizona and Northwestern MexicoAGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.ACTION: Notice of continuing information collection for a statusreview.-----------------------------------------------------------------------SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the continuation of information collection on a status review for the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in the Sonoran Desert area of central Arizona and northwestern Mexico, hereafter referred to as the ``Sonoran Desert area bald eagle.'' Through this action, we encourage all interested parties to provide us with information regarding the status of, and any potential threats to, the Sonoran Desert area bald eagle. Information previously submitted for this status assessment does not need to be resubmitted, and will be incorporated into the public record and fully considered in our status review.DATES: To allow us adequate time to consider and incorporate submitted information into our review which is due by October 12, 2009, we request that we receive the information on or before July 10, 2009.

Click here to read the complete Federal Register Notice.

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