U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA Fisheries Launch Effort to Improve Implementation of the Endangered Species Act

Last edited 09/05/2019

WASHINGTON, DC – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced today that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries Service have launched a joint effort to identify and implement administrative changes to the Endangered Species Act aimed at accelerating recovery of imperiled species, enhancing on-the-ground conservation delivery, and better engaging the resources and expertise of partners to meet the goals of the ESA.

“The Endangered Species Act has made a tremendous contribution to the conservation of imperiled animals and plants, preventing the probable extinction of hundreds of species across the nation and contributing to the recovery of the Bald Eagle, the Peregrine Falcon and many other iconic species,” Secretary Salazar said. “While we celebrate its successes, we recognize there is much that can and should be done to make the Act more effective and efficient. We expect to identify solutions that will help us improve our administration of this landmark conservation law.”

“We need to ensure that our regulations and policies effectively address the conservation challenges of today,” said the Fish and Wildlife Service's Acting Director, Rowan Gould. “We will ensure that the public and our partners have ample time to review and comment on any regulatory changes we may propose, in order to incorporate the best thinking of endangered species experts from across the country – as well as the people and communities who are affected by the ESA.”

“We will take advantage of more than three decades of experience in implementing the Act,” said Eric Schwaab, Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, NOAA Fisheries Service. “Our shared goal is to improve recovery of imperiled species, enhance our ability to achieve meaningful conservation on the ground and better engage the resources and expertise of our partners to meet the goals of the Act.”

This review and update of regulations, policies, and guidance is consistent with President Obama's Executive Order 13563, Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review and is outlined in the Department of Interior's Preliminary Plan for Retrospective Regulatory Review.

The effort will focus on the essence of the Endangered Species Act – recovering species – and strive to make administrative and regulatory improvements, while remaining true to the intent of the ESA as enacted by Congress. The Services are not seeking any legislative changes to the ESA, because the agencies believe that implementation can be significantly improved through rulemaking and policy formulation.

The Services will work to harness the expertise of career agency employees, the conservation community, landowners and other affected interests, and the broader public, to address selected issues. In particular, efforts will focus on:

  • Clarifying, expediting, and improving procedures for the development and approval of conservation agreements with landowners, including habitat conservation plans, safe harbor agreements, and candidate conservation agreements;
  • Reviewing and revising the process for designating critical habitat to design a more efficient, defensible, and consistent process;
  • Clarifying the definition of the phrase “destruction or adverse modification” of critical habitat, which is used to determine what actions can and cannot be conducted in critical habitat; and
  • Clarifying the scope and content of the incidental take statement, particularly with regard to programmatic actions or other actions where direct measurement is difficult. An incidental take statement is a component of a biological opinion that specifies the impact of an incidental taking of an endangered or threatened species and provides reasonable and prudent measures that are necessary to minimize those impacts. Greater flexibility in the quantification of anticipated incidental taking could reduce the burden of developing and implementing biological opinions without any loss of conservation benefits.

The Endangered Species Act was enacted in 1973 to protect plants and animal species threatened with extinction. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency of the Department of the Interior, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service, an agency of the Department of Commerce, work together with state and federal agencies, local governments, tribes, private landowners and the public to protect and promote the recovery of the nation's imperiled species. Under the ESA, the Interior Department is primarily responsible for terrestrial and fresh water species; the Commerce Department has the lead responsibility for most marine and anadromous species, such as salmon.

The Endangered Species Act currently protects more than 1,300 species in the United States and about 570 species abroad. An additional 249 species have been identified as candidates for protection under the Act. Many of the regulations implementing provisions of the ESA were promulgated in the 1980s and do not reflect advances in conservation biology and genetics, as well as recent court decisions interpreting the Act's provisions.

For more information regarding the Endangered Species Act and efforts to improve its implementation, please visit our web site at: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/improving_ESA/reg_reform.html


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