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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the 112th 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 large-scale ecosystem restoration issues.

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 for listed species, among others.

Although many bills have been introduced, little legislation related to ESA has been enacted by the 112th Congress. Committees have conducted oversight of the implementation of various federal programs and laws that address threatened and endangered species. P.L. 112-10 (final appropriations for FY2011) included a legislative delisting of a portion of the reintroduced Rocky Mountain gray wolf population. P.L. 112-74 provided slightly more than $237 million for FWS endangered species and related programs; this FY2012 funding for FWS core ESA programs was 0.5% more than the FY2011 enacted amount and 3.5% less than the FY2012 Administration request.

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 109th 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 112th Congress to address ESA implementation and management of endangered and threatened species.

Date of Report: September 21, 2012
Number of Pages: 27
Order Number: R41608
Price: $29.95

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