Endangered Species Act (7-8-08)
The implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA)
has long been a heated issue for environmentalists, industry and Congress. Partisan
differences have prevented Congress from updating the act since it
was due for reauthorization in 1992. ESA's impacts the geosciences through restricting land use
and requiring environmental mitigation for industrial development.
Many energy projects in the Western United States have been delayed
or stopped because of concerns involving endangered species. Geoscientists
are also involved as scientific experts in fields that intersect with
endangered species studies, such as the effect of increased sedimentation
and changes to stream morphology on salmon in the Pacific Northwest.
Some groups have questioned the effectiveness of ESA in light of the
relatively small number of species that have been taken off the list
since its enactment in 1973. Meanwhile, supporters argue that the
act is successful since even fewer listed species have gone extinct.
Recent focus has been on the designation
of "critical habitat" for endangered species, changing the role of science in decision-making, increasing protection of listed species and providing
protection and incentives for landowners affected by ESA..
The Endangered Species Act
of 1973 is a comprehensive bill intended to protect threatened or
endangered species. ESA itself has always been controversial
among industry and environmentalists as its provisions can affect the use of both federal and non-federal lands and resources, but recently the definition
of "critical habitat" has confused the issue. The
habitat" within in the Endangered Species Act allows for the protection
of threatened or endangered species by setting aside a specific geographic
area. ESA states that the federal agencies must make these designations
based on the best scientific data in addition to assessing the economic
impact of such decisions, and Congress has not passed legislation
to refine the definition of critical habitat or sound science in over
thirty years. Recent court rulings on critical habitat have
confused the issue by sending contradictory messages. Some rulings
charge the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)
and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)
with failing to protect endangered species, while other cases are
throwing out previous litigation that sets aside critical habitat
areas. Courts that have considered science in species listing and the provision of the ESA that states the “best data available” must be used have held that an agency is not obliged to conduct studies to obtain missing data, but cannot ignore available biological information, especially if the ignored information is the most current.
Additional information on the ESA
from the 109th Congress.
Contributed by Paul Schramm, 2007 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern
Background section contains information from the 107th
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI
Government Affairs Program at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last updated on May 14, 2007.