TESTIMONY OF GARY FRAZER, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR ENDANGERED SPECIES, FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS, SUBCOMMITTEE ON FISHERIES, WILDLIFE, AND WATER ON LISTING AND DELISTING PROCESSES OF THE ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT
May 9, 2001
Mr. Chairman, I appreciate this opportunity to discuss how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service carries out its duties related to listing and delisting species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA or Act). Our procedures, some prescribed by statute and others by agency regulations or policies, are all focused upon ensuring that our decisions are objective, based on good science, and made in the open with peer review and public participation throughout.
The Fish and Wildlife Service (Service or FWS) is committed to making the Endangered Species Act work in the eyes of the public, the Congress, and the courts so as to accomplish its purpose of conserving threatened and endangered species and protecting the ecosystems upon which they depend. This is a challenging task, involving precious and irreplaceable natural resources, a complex statute, and many stakeholders with deeply held and often conflicting interests.
In this environment, the following principles provide the foundation for the administration of our listing and delisting activities ensure that our decisions are based on the best available science, seek independent peer review of our decisions, provide for public participation throughout our decision process, and ensure that our decision process is understandable and transparent.
Science, Peer Review, and Public Participation in the Listing and Delisting Process
The Endangered Species Act requires listing determinations to be made solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available. The careful evaluation of scientific evidence is fundamental to the assessment of species for listing or delisting under the ESA. The Service strives to make the most of scientific advances that improve our ability to understand nature and its processes. Our joint Fish and Wildlife Service/National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) "Policy on Information Standards Under the Endangered Species Act", published in the Federal Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34271) (Attachment 1), provides criteria, establishes procedures, and provides guidance to our field biologists and managers regarding the use of scientific information in our decision process.
This "Policy on Information Standards" requires our biologists and managers to ensure that the information we use is reliable, credible, and represents the best data available; to impartially evaluate information that disputes existing positions or decisions of the Service; to document their evaluation of the available scientific and commercial data; to use primary and original sources of information as the basis for recommendations, where consistent with the Act and our obligation to use the best information available; and to conduct management-level reviews of the documents developed by staff biologists to verify and assure the quality of the science used in the decision process.
The ESA, the Administrative Procedures Act, and the regulations governing our listing and delisting activities ensure that States, Tribes, other agencies, and the public have ample opportunity to participate in our listing and delisting actions. These established processes ensure that the public can participate fully in listing and delisting decisions. In addition, the requirement that the Service maintain and make available the administrative record in support of its decision making assists in making the decision process open and transparent.
To further ensure that sound science underlies our decisions, the Service and NMFS established a joint "Policy for Peer Review in Endangered Species Act Activities", published in the Federal Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34270) (Attachment 2). This policy works to ensure that independent peer review is incorporated throughout our listing and recovery programs in a manner that complements, but does not circumvent or supercede, other established public participation processes.
In recognition of the unique capability of State fish and wildlife agencies to assist in implementing all aspects of the ESA, the Service and NMFS developed a joint "Policy Regarding the Role of State Agencies in Endangered Species Act Activities", published in the Federal Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34275) (Attachment 3). This policy recognizes that States possess broad trustee authorities over fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats within their borders, as well as scientific data and valuable expertise on the status and distribution of such wildlife. The policy requires the Services to solicit State agency expertise and participation in the following activities, among others: determining which species should be included on the list of candidate species, conducting population status inventories and geographical distribution surveys, responding to listing petitions, preparing proposed and final listing and delisting rules, and designing and implementing recovery efforts.
The Executive Order 13175 of November 6, 2000, on government-to-government relations with Native American tribal governments also requires us to consult with the tribes on matters that affect them. Consistent with this and our Federal trust responsibility, we consult to the extent possible with Indian Tribes having tribal trust resources, tribally owned fee lands, or tribal rights that might be affected by ESA activities.
The Listing Process
Listing under the Endangered Species Act becomes necessary when a species declines to the point where it is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range (an "endangered species") or it is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future (a "threatened species"). The Secretary is required to list or reclassify a species if, after reviewing the species' status using the best scientific and commercial data available, it is found that the species is endangered or threatened because of any one or a combination of the following factors:
- the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range;>
- overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes;
- disease or predation;
- the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; and
- other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence.
There are two processes to identify species in need of listing. The first is the candidate assessment process, which is initiated by the Service. The second is a petition process, which is available to the public.
Part of the Service's Candidate Conservation program is the candidate assessment process, through which the Service searches for species of fish, wildlife and plants that may be at risk and in need of protection under the Act. In identifying candidate species, we rely on our own biological surveys, including status surveys conducted for the purpose of candidate assessment, information from State Natural Heritage Programs, other Federal and State agencies, knowledgeable scientists, and public and private natural resources organizations.
Each year, the Service publishes in the Federal Register the Candidate Notice of Review (CNOR). The CNOR identifies the species that we believe are candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The CNOR lists those species previously identified as candidates, species for which petitions have resulted in "warranted but precluded" findings, as discussed below, during the prior year, and other species that appear to warrant listing under the ESA. When we identify a species as a candidate for listing, we have sufficient scientific information available to support a proposed rule to evaluate whether the species should be added to the list of threatened and endangered species. However, preparation of the proposed rule is precluded by higher-priority listing actions. We publish the CNOR, make individual candidate assessment forms available to the public, and solicit additional information about the status of candidate species, the threats they face, and conservation actions that are being implemented that may benefit the species. We accept information from the public about candidate species at any time. We use the public's comments in the preparation of listing rules for the highest priority candidates, and in revisions to subsequent CNORs. In addition, publication of the list of candidate species provides important information about potential listings that can be used by planners and developers.
The CNOR also serves to explain to the public our long-standing science-based priority system for adding species to the list, which was published in the Federal Register on September 1, 1983 (48 FR 43098-43105) (Attachment 4). Each candidate species is assigned a listing priority number (LPN), based on the immediacy and magnitude of the threats faced by the species and on its taxonomic distinctiveness. The candidate assessment forms, which are available to the public upon request, document our reasons for assigning a particular LPN to each candidate species. We use the LPN to prioritize listing actions. Species with lower LPNs are given a higher priority for action.
The second process for identifying species that may warrant listing is the petition process. Section 4 of the Act allows any interested person to petition the Secretary of the Interior either to add a species to, or remove a species from, the lists of threatened and endangered species. The Services ensure consistent and rigorous analysis of petitions by following the interagency "Petition Management Guidance" issued in July 1996 (Attachment 5).
Upon receipt of a petition, the Service must respond, within 90 days when practicable, with a finding as to whether the petition provides substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted. If the Service determines that the petition did not provide such substantial information, the 90-day finding concludes the petition review process. However, if the Service determines that the petition does provide substantial information, the Service initiates a status review and issues an additional finding within 12 months of the receipt of the petition.
There are three possible outcomes of the "12-month finding": 1) listing is not warranted, and no further action is taken; 2) listing is warranted, and a listing proposal is promptly prepared; or 3) listing is warranted, but immediate action is precluded by higher priority actions. A "warranted but precluded" finding is made on the basis of the species' listing priority number and the listing workload. In such cases, preparation of a listing proposal is delayed until higher priority actions are completed.
We issue a proposed rule to list species when we have sufficient information to show that listing is warranted (as result of either process). If the issuance of the proposed rule is precluded by work on other higher priority listing actions, we add the species to our candidate list to be prioritized for a future listing proposal.
Our listing and delisting actions are informal rule-makings, published in proposed and final rule form in the Federal Register, and leading to revisions to Title 50, Part 17 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Once a proposal is published, the Service must allow for a public comment period on the proposal; provide actual notice of the proposed regulation to appropriate State, tribal, and local government agencies; publish a summary of the proposal in a newspaper of general circulation in areas where the species occurs; and hold a public hearing, if requested. See 16 U.S.C. 1533(b)(5). The Service's implementing regulations require that the public comment period on a listing proposal be at least 60 days long. See 50 C.F.R. 424.16(c)(2). Since public participation is so important to effective conservation efforts, the Service will often hold multiple public hearings and extend the comment period beyond the minimum required by the law and regulation.
We always solicit independent peer review of our listing proposals, and incorporate comments and recommendations that we receive. We have found such peer review to be a valuable element of the decision process. However, it is sometimes difficult to obtain the participation of experts in this process. Experts in academia and other agencies have other demands for their time and attention, and incentives to contribute their expertise to our listing efforts are not always apparent. We have also found that species experts may be reluctant to become involved when they view the listing action as likely to lead to subsequent litigation. The potential demands upon their time and reputations associated with depositions, cross examination, and other legal proceedings create a genuine disincentive for some experts. We are continuing, however, to explore ways to increase participation in and improve the effectiveness of the independent peer review process.
The Service reviews petitions, adds species to the list, reclassifies species from threatened to endangered, and designates critical habitat using funds appropriated specifically to our Listing program for these purposes. (Delisting and reclassification from endangered to threatened are part of the recovery process and are funded through the Recovery program.) The workload associated with these listing activities has for several years exceeded the resources available to the Service for listing, and a substantial backlog of listing actions has accumulated. To manage this backlog within appropriated resources, the Service, since Fiscal Year 1996, has employed a Listing Priority Guidance system to assign relative priorities to the listing actions to be carried out under section 4 of the Act. The objective of the Listing Priority Guidance is to focus available resources on those listing actions that have the greatest biological benefit to species in need of protection under the Act.
Unfortunately, most courts have not afforded deference to this priority system, and have instead concluded that they have no discretion but to order us to act as soon as possible on whatever backlogged action comes before them. As a result, court ordered actions have consumed essentially all of the listing budget this fiscal year. The Service does not have any remaining resources or staff to place new species on the list of threatened and endangered species or to respond to citizen petitions to list new species. In short, the Service does not currently have a balanced and effective listing program.
The President is continuing efforts begun by the last Administration to break this gridlock and get back to the important business of protecting imperiled species. We are asking Congress, through the Fiscal Year 2002 budget request, to help us address our backlog in two ways. We are seeking increased funding for our listing program so that we can begin to reduce the backlog of listing actions, and we are asking Congress to concur that these funds should be spent pursuant to current court orders or settlement agreements and on those listing actions that provide the greatest benefit for species at risk of extinction. This proposal would not change any of the underlying substantive requirements of the Act, but would allow the Service to use its resources to protect the species that are in greatest need of listing. The Service hopes to engage the public and interested groups in the development of a revised listing priority system and to put the resulting priority system out for public review and comment.
We recognize that this proposal has resulted in considerable controversy. While the problem is real and needs to be addressed, we would welcome the opportunity to work with this Committee and other interested Members to craft a solution that meets with wide approval.
Distinct Population Segments
In carrying out our listing duties under the ESA, the Service has proposed and finalized rules to list a number of "distinct population segments" (DPS's) of species. Mr. Chairman, I would like to take this opportunity to explain how the Service decides whether to list a species as a "distinct population segment".
The ESA's definition of "species" includes "any subspecies of fish or wildlife or plants, and any distinct population segment of any species of vertebrate fish or wildlife which interbreeds when mature." 16 U.S.C. 1532(16); 50 C.F.R.424.10(k). This definition allows for listing at levels below taxonomically recognized species or subspecies. Accordingly, a DPS of vertebrate fish or wildlife may be listed as a "species" under the ESA.
The Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have long recognized the importance of interpreting the term "distinct population segment" in a clear and consistent fashion. We collaboratively developed a policy to clarify our interpretation of DPS's for the purposes of listing, delisting, and reclassifying species under the ESA, and published that draft policy in December 1994 (59 FR 65885). The intent of the policy was to provide a well conceived analytical framework for considering whether to list, delist, or reclassify distinct populations segments of vertebrate species. The policy was also developed to ensure that DPS listing activities are carried out consistently throughout both agencies.
As is the case with the rule-making process for listing species, we strive to develop our policies in a transparent process that solicits and incorporates public input and responds to public concerns. We solicited public review and comment on the draft DPS policy. After receiving, analyzing, and responding to public comments, the Service and NMFS published the final joint DPS policy on February 7, 1996 (61 FR 4722) (Attachment 6).
In the policy, we noted that listing a DPS would serve to protect and conserve species and the ecosystems upon which they depend before large-scale decline occurs that would necessitate listing a species or subspecies throughout its entire range. This may allow protection and recovery of declining organisms in a more timely and less costly manner, and on a smaller scale than the more costly and extensive efforts that might be needed to recover an entire species or subspecies. The Services' ability to address local issues (without the need to list, recover, and consult range-wide) will result in a more effective program.
Under the DPS Policy, the listing of a DPS involves a three-stage, sequential process. First, the Service decides whether the population is "discrete." Second, it determines whether it is "significant." If a population is both "discrete" and "significant," it constitutes a DPS. Third, the Service applies the listing criteria, 16 U.S.C. 1533(a)(1), outlined earlier in this statement, to determine whether to list the DPS as endangered or threatened.
A population segment may be considered discrete if it is either (1) markedly separated from other populations of the same taxon as a consequence of physical, physiological, ecological, or behavioral factors, and/or (2) delimited by international governmental boundaries across which differences in control of exploitation, management of habitat, conservation status, or regulatory mechanisms exist that are significant in light of section 4(a)(1)(D) of the ESA.
If a population segment is determined to be discrete under one, or both, of these conditions, its biological and ecological significance will then be considered in light of Congressional guidance (see Senate Report 151, 96th Congress, 1st Session) that the authority to list DPS's be used "sparingly" while encouraging the conservation of genetic diversity. In making this "significance" determination, the Services consider the available scientific evidence of the DPS's importance to the taxon to which it belongs. This consideration may include, but is not limited to, the following: (1) persistence of the discrete population segment in an ecological setting unusual or unique for the taxon; (2) evidence that loss of the discrete population segment would result in a significant gap in the range of a taxon; (3) evidence that the discrete population segment represents the only surviving natural occurrence of a taxon that may be more abundant elsewhere as an introduced population outside its historic range; or (4) evidence that the discrete population segment differs markedly from other populations of the species in its genetic characteristics.
The Policy's guidelines permit the use of agency discretion in evaluating discreteness and significance. Indeed, the Policy provides that:
"[b]ecause precise circumstances are likely to vary considerably from case to case, it is not possible to describe prospectively all the class of information that might bear on the biological and ecological importance of a discrete population segment." Id.
In responding to public comment on the draft version of the Policy published in the Federal Register, we stated "that the use of international boundaries as a measure of discreteness may introduce an artificial and non-biological element to the recognition of DPS's," and that such determination "is sometimes undertaken as a matter of policy rather than science." The policy further noted that "it appears to be reasonable for national legislation, which has its principal effects on a national scale, to recognize units delimited by international boundaries when these coincide with differences in the management, status, or exploitation of a species."
Moreover, the policy recognizes that the "[r]ecognition of international boundaries in this way is also consistent with practice under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora [CITES], which is implemented in the United States by the Act." Under CITES, species protection may vary from country to country (e.g., prohibiting commercial trade for a species from one country, but not from another) depending on their management of the species. When appropriate, the ESA listings for species included in CITES can be specific to a country in order to reflect those management differences and support effective implementation of CITES (e.g., for the salt water crocodile).
The Recovery Process
Recovery of threatened and endangered species is the process by which the decline of an endangered or threatened species is arrested or reversed, and the threats to its survival are neutralized, so that long-term survival in nature can be ensured. The goal of the recovery process is to restore listed species to a point where they are secure, self-sustaining components of their ecosystems which do not require the protections of the ESA, and can be delisted.
For almost all species, a recovery plan is essential as a road map for the recovery process. A recovery outline, the first step in recovery planning, guides the development of a recovery plan that identifies Federal, state, tribal, and private actions needed to achieve recovery. The Service's policy is to complete a recovery outline within 60 days of listing a species. A recovery outline identifies the major and most imminent threats to a species, and the actions and partners needed to immediately begin reducing these threats while a recovery plan is being developed.
The ESA states that recovery plans shall be developed for the conservation and survival of threatened and endangered species unless such a plan will not promote the conservation of the species. There are very few exceptions to the need for a recovery plan, and most of these exceptions are for species that occur under very localized circumstances where other plans, such as a forest management plan, already contain the actions needed to recover the listed species.
Therefore, it is the case for most species that immediately upon listing the Service also begins the recovery planning process. A first step in the process is to identify the participants of a recovery team that will work to craft the recovery plan for a listed species. To guide our actions during the recovery process, the Service uses our May 1990 "Policy and Guidelines for Planning and Coordinating Recovery of Endangered and Threatened Species" and the following 1994 joint FWS/NMFS policies:
- Policy for Peer Review of ESA Activities - incorporates independent peer review into recovery actions, including the writing of recovery plans;
- Policy on Information Standards - directs that the best available scientific and commercial information be used when determining what actions are needed to recover species; and
- Policy on Recovery Plan Participation and Implementation (published in the Federal Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34272) (Attachment 7) - directs the Service to solicit the participation of State, Tribal, and Federal agencies, academic institutions, private individuals, and economic interests when determining the recovery actions needed to recover species.
The latter policy directed the Service to diversify the areas of expertise represented on a recovery team, develop multiple species plans when possible, minimize the social and economic impacts of implementing recovery actions, and involve representatives of affected groups and provide stakeholders the opportunity to participate in recovery plan development.
Because the Service bases our recovery decisions on sound science, we seek to involve experts in these decisions and include them on recovery teams. Therefore, when we initiate the recovery planning process for a listed species, we endeavor to identify experts on the species and its habitat, as well as the most knowledgeable individuals on land use and land management within the range of the species.
The Service must balance the need to have as many participants as possible on a recovery team, with the need to ensure that the size of the team does not compromise its efficiency. We often work primarily as the facilitator on recovery teams, providing guidance for experts on the team from other Federal agencies, state agencies, Tribes, or the private sector.
In addition, the Service often uses one or more "recovery implementation teams" during the recovery planning process to allow for broader public participation. Participation on these teams is usually possible for any concerned individual that wishes to volunteer. As a recovery plan is drafted, the proposed, necessary recovery actions identified by the recovery team are presented to the implementation teams for their review. The implementation teams, which are often composed of members of the public and agencies whose interests may be affected by the recovery needs, provide valuable reviews of the feasibility of the proposed actions. The proposed actions may be modified based on the reviews and comments of the implementation teams.
It is the Service's intent to complete draft recovery plans for species within one and one-half years from the time of listing. Once complete, draft recovery plans are available for public review and comment. A notice of availability is published and comments are solicited. Today, it is not unusual for the Service to receive hundreds, sometimes thousands, of comments on a single plan. These comments come from a wide range of interests: from advocates for the environment to private citizens who are worried about what effects the recovery of the species may have on their livelihoods.
The Service uses the recovery team to consider each comment on a recovery plan, and, where needed, incorporate the comments into the final recovery plan. A record of how comments on a recovery plan are considered is kept and made available for public review. When a final recovery plan has been completed and approved by the Service's appropriate Regional Director, it is made available to all interested parties. A Notice of Availability is published in the Federal Register and the Service ensures that all of the recognized concerned public is aware of the completion of the plan. In addition, notices are often placed in newspapers throughout the range of the species.
A recovery plan must address the threats to the species, describe the actions needed to recoverthe species, provide an implementation schedule of when the actions will be completed, identify the parties who will have primary responsibility for undertaking the actions, and assess the estimated costs of implementing the recovery plan. In addition, a recovery plan identifies the criteria that will be used to determine when a species may be sufficiently recovered to be downlisted from endangered to threatened, or delisted and removed from the list of species protected by the ESA.
The Service is increasing its use of multi-species recovery plans. At least 20 multi-species plans have been finalized since 1998. Addressing the recovery of multiple listed species in a single, multi-species, ecosystem-based approach is efficient in addressing common habitat needs and shared threats. This approach is often more cost effective and efficient than addressing species through single-species recovery plans.
Recovery plans must be dynamic documents. New information is constantly becoming available. As new information is recognized that may affect a species' recovery, the recovery team for the species may be reconvened to assess the information and determine if the plan needs to be revised. At the very minimum, the Service reviews plans every five years to determine if changes are needed. If significant changes to a plan are needed, then, following the process already outlined, a new draft plan is prepared, participation and comment is invited from all interested parties, and a new final recovery plan may result.
The Service is proud that, as of the beginning of this year, 88 percent of the species for which a recovery plan is required and due have approved recovery plans. Recovery plans are not prepared for some listed species, particularly international species not found in North America.
Recovery implementation is the undertaking of the actions needed to accomplish recovery plan tasks in a systematic manner. Implementation involves strategic planning and requires the tracking of results to determine if recovery actions are working and whether a recovery plan's objectives are being met. Recovery actions are prioritized. Priority 1 actions are those that must be taken to prevent extinction or to prevent the species from irreversible decline. Priority 2 actions are the actions that are needed to prevent a significant decline in a species' population or habitat, or would prevent some other significant negative impact. Finally, priority 3 actions are those actions that must be take to provide for a full recovery of a species.
In most cases, successful species recovery is too large a task for any one agency or interest group. Implementation must involve all affected parties, consider social and economic impacts, and must be scientifically sound. The Service must engage the multiple stakeholders throughout the recovery implementation process, and encourage them to effectively sustain, conserve and ultimately recover endangered and threatened species so that they may be delisted.
An example of stakeholder involvement in the recovery process is the multi-species recovery effort in the Southwestern United States involving the cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl and the threatened and endangered big river fish in the Lower Colorado River. The threats faced by these species include an increasing loss of both arid and aquatic natural habitat due to rapid population growth in southern Arizona, Nevada and California. The loss of habitat necessitates working with diverse and broad groups of stakeholders during recovery implementation to balance species conservation, economic viability, and "people protection". In the Southwest, the efforts of recovery implementation teams include participation by water, power, and wildlife agencies and municipalities, ranchers, and cultural and historical entities, all acting for the common good. Such interaction leads to enlightened understanding about how improved land and water quality and habitat cohesiveness assists species recovery while providing healthy habitats for everyone.
It usually takes many years, often decades, for a species to decline to the point where it needs the protection of the ESA. Likewise, recovery of a species is also a process that usually requires significant time to accomplish. Instances where habitat loss and degradation constitute the main threats to a species usually makes it more difficult to recover the species. Often the participants in the recovery planning and implementation for a species will change as time passes. The constant is the Service's direction of the recovery implementation process, ensuring that the best scientific and commercial information is used, that all willing participants are provided the opportunity to comment and participate, and that the progress towards recovery is monitored and, when necessary, changed through adaptive management.
The Delisting Process
The same scientific rigor and full public participation is used in delisting species as was used in the listing of species. The Service regularly assesses the criteria listed in the recovery plan that are used to define when a species has sufficiently recovered to be reclassified as either a threatened species (recovered from being endangered) or as a fully recovered species and removed from the list of species protected by the ESA. Likewise, the most recent scientific and commercial data, after being subjected to peer review, are used to assess the current status of the species. Often, the factors used to determine whether a species has recovered include the species' population size, recruitment, stability of habitat in terms of habitat quality and quantity, the degree to which habitat areas are connected to one another, and the control or elimination of the threats that led to the need to list the species.
The ability to list distinct population segments may also play an important role in the recovery of listed vertebrate species. Many species were listed before the ESA was amended in 1978 to allow the listing of distinct population segments. Therefore, the Service may consider that a portion of a listed species has recovered sufficiently to warrant downlisting or delisting. Of course, this population, and the populations of the species that may not have reached the recovery goals, must conform to the same criteria of substantiality and distinction that are used to list distinct population segments. If this is the case, then the Service may be able to use a distinct population segment to delist or downlist a portion of the species. This will provide regulatory relief for the public within the range of the recovered distinct population segment. As always, the Service uses the best scientific and commercial data, along with the opinions of experts and the public, when making these decisions.
As already mentioned during the previous review of the listing process, the public has the opportunity to petition the Service to delist a species at any time. Likewise, as already discussed, the petition will trigger a process where the petition is first reviewed for presenting substantial information, and, if it passes that test, within 12 months the action requested in the petition will be assessed, using the best peer reviewed scientific and commercial data and the opinions of experts. If it is judged that the petitioned action is warranted, the Service will move to propose delisting the species.
Outside of the petition process, as recovery of a species becomes more imminent, the recovery team is requested to assess the evidence that the species may have reached the goals identified for its recovery. Again, only the best peer reviewed scientific and commercial data are used, along with the opinions of experts on the species, its habitat, and land management practices. If the status of the species has improved sufficiently, then a proposal to downlist or delist the species will be prepared.
As is the case for the process of listing a species, a proposal to reclassify a species is published in the Federal Register and announced in selected newspapers throughout the range of the species. The Service schedules public meetings during the comment period for a reclassification so that all of the concerned public will have the opportunity to provide comments on the proposed action. All comments are carefully considered and a record, available to the public, is kept on the decisions made with respect to the comments.
If, after this process, it is determined that a species has recovered sufficiently to merit reclassification, then a final decision is made and published. A decision to reclassify a species from threatened to endangered likely requires a new recovery plan be developed, and the process already described will once again be initiated. A determination that a species has fully recovered will result in the species being removed from the list of species protected by the ESA.
As acknowledged earlier, species are usually listed as a result of factors that caused their decline over many years, often decades or even centuries. As a result, recovery of listed species requires time and resources. It is the goal of the Service to recover species as quickly as possible. Since 1998, the Service has specifically targeted $1 million each year to listed species that are nearing recovery. This funding provides the extra resources needed to either downlist or delist the species and ensures that they get this focused attention.
We have had success. Recently the Service was successful in taking the peregrine falcon off of the list of species protected by the ESA. The falcon was primarily threatened by pesticides and habitat loss, and the efforts of many agencies and individuals, over more than 30 years, were needed to recover the falcon. Likewise, just this year the Aleutian Canada goose was delisted. The goose was one of the first species to be protected under the ESA. Through cooperation with state governments and partnerships with private landowners, the threats posed by introduced foxes and habitat losses were reduced and recovery of the goose was accomplished.
Likewise, the bald eagle, our nation's symbol, is on the verge of complete recovery. Once the Service has resolved how the delisting of the bald eagle will be addressed in our implementation of other wildlife laws, such as the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Service will be able to proceed with this historic event. In all, as a result of recovery activities, the Service plans to delist or downlist four more species in FY 2001 and at least six species in FY 2002.
In closing, I would like to emphasize the importance the Service places upon having a science based, open decision process in which the affected public can participate fully. Our listing and delisting decisions are sometimes difficult and contentious, and not all parties will agree with our final decision. But it is critical that the public and the Congress view our work as honest and objective efforts to reach a decision required of us by the Act. Our success in implementing the Endangered Species Act is tied to that trust.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared testimony. Thank you for your interest in the Endangered Species Act and the way it is implemented, and for the opportunity to testify. I would be pleased to respond to any questions you and other members of the Committee might have.
Disclaimer: All statements are not the opinions or position of those testifying, rather they are the official positions taken by the Administration.