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Monday, March 26, 2012

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 large-scale ecosystem restoration issues.

The 112th 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 112th 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 for 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 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: March 15, 2012
Number of Pages: 24
Order Number: R41608
Price: $29.95

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Heritage Areas: Background, Proposals, and Current Issues


Carol Hardy Vincent
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Over more than 25 years, Congress has established 49 national heritage areas (NHAs) to commemorate, conserve, and promote areas that include important natural, scenic, historic, cultural, and recreational resources. NHAs are partnerships among the National Park Service (NPS), states, and local communities, where the NPS supports state and local conservation through federal recognition, seed money, and technical assistance. NHAs are not part of the National Park System, where lands are federally owned and managed. Rather, lands within heritage areas typically remain in state, local, or private ownership or a combination thereof. Heritage areas have been supported as protecting lands and traditions and promoting tourism and community revitalization, but opposed as potentially burdensome, costly, or leading to federal control over nonfederal lands. This report focuses on heritage areas designated by Congress (not other entities) and related issues and legislation.

There is no comprehensive statute that establishes criteria for designating NHAs or provides standards for their funding and management. Rather, particulars for each area are provided in its enabling legislation. Congress designates a management entity, usually nonfederal, to coordinate the work of the partners. This entity typically develops and implements a plan for managing the NHA, in collaboration with other parties. Once approved by the Secretary of the Interior, the management plan becomes the blueprint for managing the area.

NHAs might receive funding from a wide variety of sources. Congress typically determines federal funding for NHAs in annual appropriations laws for Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies. NHAs can use federal funds for many purposes, including staffing, planning, and projects. The FY2012 appropriation for the NPS for assistance to heritage areas was $17.4 million. The Obama Administration is seeking $9.3 million for FY2013.

The Obama Administration has expressed interest in having NHAs become financially selfsufficient, and some appropriators and other Members have emphasized self-sufficiency for these areas as well. One role of the NPS is to evaluate heritage areas at least three years before the expiration of the authorization for federal funds. The NPS is currently focused on evaluating nine NHAs designated in 1996, and anticipates completing these evaluations in August 2012.

Each Congress typically considers bills to establish new heritage areas, to study areas for possible heritage designation, or to amend existing heritage areas. In the 112th Congress, several such bills are pending. Other 112th Congress bills would ban federal funding for heritage areas.

Further, the sizeable number of existing NHAs and proposals in recent years to study and designate new ones has fostered legislation to establish a system of NHAs, and to provide criteria for their designation, standards for their management, and limits on federal funding support. In the 112th Congress, one such measure (H.R. 4099) has been introduced. The Obama Administration has supported such systemic NHA legislation. Some opponents believe that NHAs present numerous problems and challenges and that Congress should oppose efforts to designate new areas and/or to create a system of NHAs.

In the 111th Congress, the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-11) included provisions to create nine new NHAs, to reauthorize one existing area, to study two areas for possible heritage designation, and to amend four existing heritage areas.



Date of Report: March 6, 2012
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: RL33462
Price: $29.95

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Fish and Wildlife Service: Compensation to Local Governments


M. Lynne Corn
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Many counties are compensated for the tax-exempt status of federal lands. Counties with lands under the primary jurisdiction of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) are compensated through the National Wildlife Refuge Fund (NWRF). Counties have argued that the program is underfunded; in some instances, counties raise lack of funding as an argument against the establishment of new refuges. Congress has begun to examine the program for possible changes.

Lands eligible for NWRF are largely in the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS), but certain other FWS lands are included as well. Under the 1935 Refuge Revenue Sharing Act (16 U.S.C. §715s), NWRF was conceived as a program to share revenues from activities such as grazing or timber harvest on refuge lands, and such receipts are permanently appropriated to the fund. However, revenue-generating activities were (and are) often incompatible with refuge purposes, and many refuges generate no revenue. In such situations, counties received no compensation from the federal government for the presence of the federal land and the law was amended, and other payment criteria were added in 1978. It became apparent that revenues were not sufficient to meet the payment formula specified in the law. Congress has repeatedly appropriated additional funds to supplement the revenue stream. But the additional amounts appropriated have not met the formula level, particularly in the last decade. Recent Administration proposals for substantial funding reductions have intensified congressional interest. The Administration argues that the savings are justified, and that refuges add few costs to counties and provide economic benefits from increased tourism.

Under NWRF, payments are distributed through a complex formula to counties with FWS lands, with different formulas for lands reserved from the public domain (that is, obtained from a sovereign power) and acquired lands (that is, those purchased from or donated by any entity other than a sovereign power). In turn, public domain lands in the NWRS are also eligible for Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT; 31 U.S.C. §6901), which provides additional payments to local governments. Acquired FWS lands are not eligible for PILT.

When NWRF is not fully funded, some state and local governments may be reluctant to see lands within their boundaries acquired for addition to the NWRS. As Congress debates changes in NWRF, several issues stand out as part of the debate: 

         The NWRF payment formula is causing a rapid increase in authorized payment levels. 
         Current NWRF receipts are sufficient to provide only a small fraction of the authorized formula, even without the increase in payment levels. 
         PILT payments, at least temporarily, are mandatory spending, while NWRF payments are dependent on annual appropriations for the bulk of the program. 
         PILT payments are provided only for public domain lands within the NWRS, and not for other FWS lands. 
This report gives further details on NWRF, its compensation formula, receipts, payment levels, interaction with PILT, and options for modifying the program.


Date of Report: March
13, 2012
Number of Pages:
18
Order Number: R
42404
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Forestry Assistance Programs


Ross W. Gorte
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Megan Stubbs
Analyst in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has numerous programs to support management of state and private forests. These programs are under the jurisdiction of the Agriculture Committees and are often examined in the periodic legislation to reauthorize agricultural programs, commonly known as farm bills. The 2008 farm bill (P.L. 110-246) included a forestry title with numerous provisions, and forestry activities were included in several other titles, as well. Congress might oversee the implementation as well as the funding of these programs.

Forestry-specific assistance programs (in contrast to agriculture conservation programs that include forestry activities) are primarily administered by the USDA Forest Service (FS), with permanent authorization of funding as needed. Some programs provide technical assistance— information, advice, and aid on specific projects. Other programs provide financial assistance, usually through grants (with or without matching contributions from recipients) or cost-sharing (typically though state agencies, with varying levels of contributions from recipients). Many programs provide both.

Most of the programs provide assistance to the states. The state agencies can use the assistance on state forestlands or to assist local governments or private landowners. How the states use the funds is largely at the discretion of the states, within the authorizations of each program; however, the 2008 farm bill added national priorities for state assistance and state-wide assessments and strategies to focus state efforts on achieving the national priorities. Funds are appropriated for planning and implementing forestry and related land management practices—site preparation for reforestation, tree planting, thinning, pruning, fertilizing, prescribed burning, restoring watersheds, improving wildlife habitats, and other activities. Other programs provide support for protecting forestlands from wildfires, insects and diseases, and from clearing forests for nonforest uses (such as growing crops or building houses). Two programs are designed specifically to assist landowners to recover or restore forests following catastrophic events, such as wildfires. Additional programs provide economic assistance for communities in or near federal forests whose economies have traditionally relied on forests and forest resources. In addition, International Forestry is often included as a forestry assistance program, because it provides technical forestry help and because it has often been funded out of FS appropriations for forestry assistance programs.

Finally, states are authorized to request consolidated payments, for flexibility in program administration, and several coordinating or advisory groups exist to coordinate programs or for specific purposes under one or more programs.

Funding for the forest management assistance programs—forest stewardship and urban and community forestry—has remained relatively constant over the past five years. Forest protection programs—forest health (for insect and disease identification and control), fire assistance, and forest legacy (for easements to prevent forest clearing)—grew substantially in 2001, and have remained at relatively high levels. For the first time in several years, forest recovery programs have begun to receive intermittent funding, primarily through supplemental appropriation acts. Funding for economic assistance programs has declined after peaking in FY2001.



Date of Report: March
6, 2012
Number of Pages:
30
Order Number: R
L31065
Price: $29.95

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