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USFWS, NOAA Fisheries Look At Identifying, Implementing ‘Administrative’ Changes To ESA
Posted on Friday, June 03, 2011 (PST)

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 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,” agency officials said in a press release.  The agencies say they are not seeking any legislative changes to the ESA, because they believe that implementation can be significantly improved through rulemaking and policy formulation.


The 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 ESA was enacted in 1973 to protect plants and animal species threatened with extinction. 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,” said the press release.


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