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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the112th Congress: Conflicting Values and Difficult Choices


Eugene H. Buck
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

M. Lynne Corn
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Kristina Alexander
Legislative Attorney

Pervaze A. Sheikh
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Robert Meltz
Legislative Attorney


The Endangered Species Act (ESA; P.L. 93-205, 16 U.S.C. §§ 1531-1543) was enacted to increase protection for, and provide for the recovery of, vanishing wildlife and vegetation. 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. Habitat loss is the primary cause for listing species. Once a species is listed, powerful legal tools are available to aid its recovery and protect its habitat. Accordingly, when certain resources are associated with listed species—such as water in arid regions like California, old growth timber in national forests, or free-flowing rivers—ESA is seen as an obstacle to continued or greater human use of these resources. ESA may also be controversial because dwindling species are usually harbingers of broader ecosystem decline or conflicts. As a result, ESA is considered a primary driver of largescale ecosystem restoration issues.

The 112
th Congress may conduct oversight of the implementation of various federal programs and laws that address threatened and endangered species. This could range from addressing listing and delisting decisions under ESA to justifying funding levels for international conservation programs. The 112th Congress may also face specific resource conflicts involving threatened and endangered species, including managing water supplies and ecosystem restoration in San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers Delta in California (i.e., Bay-Delta) and managing water supplies in the Klamath Basin. In the 112th Congress, resource-specific issues may be addressed independently, whereas oversight on the implementation of ESA may be addressed in debates about particular species (e.g., wolves, polar bears, and salmon). P.L. 112-10 (final appropriations for FY2011) included a legislative delisting of a portion of the reintroduced Rocky Mountain gray wolf population.

The 112
th Congress may consider legislation related to global climate change that includes provisions that would allocate funds to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered species program and/or to related funds to assist species adaptation to climate change. Other major issues concerning ESA in recent years have included the role of science in decision-making, critical habitat (CH) designation, incentives for property owners, and appropriate protection of listed species, among others.

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 year. Proposals to reauthorize and extensively amend ESA were last considered in the 109
th Congress, but none were enacted. No legislative proposals were introduced in the 110th or 111th Congresses to reauthorize ESA.

This report discusses oversight issues and legislation introduced in the 112
th Congress to address ESA implementation and management of endangered and threatened species.


Date of Report: June 9, 2011
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: R41608
Price: $29.95

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