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Monday, March 18, 2013

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the 113th Congress: New and Recurring Issues

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.

Previous Congresses have conducted oversight hearings on the implementation of various federal programs and laws that address threatened and endangered species. This has ranged from addressing listing and delisting decisions under ESA to justifying funding levels for international conservation programs. The 113
th Congress may 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 113th Congress, resourcespecific 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).

Major issues for the 113
th Congress likely include how to allocate funds to activities and programs seeking 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.

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 was enacted. No legislative proposals were introduced in the 110th, 111th, or 112th Congresses to reauthorize ESA.

This report discusses oversight issues and legislation in the 113
th Congress that address ESA implementation and management of endangered and threatened species.

Date of Report: March 5, 2013
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: R42945
Price: $29.95

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