February 01, 2005

Crapo, Baucus Find ESA Consultations Exceed Deadlines

Findings come in new GAO report

Washington, DC - A new review of the government consultation process required under the Endangered Species Act shows the length of the process could be weakening species recovery efforts. The report conducted by the General Accounting Office (GAO) came at the request of Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Max Baucus (D-Montana). Crapo is chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committeeâ??s Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water and Baucus is a senior member of the subcommittee with a longstanding interest in the ESA.Crapo and Baucus say the findings of the GAO study indicate wildlife administrators are struggling under the paperwork of ESA guidelines and note the official process of consultation regularly exceeds allotted timelines. Continuing attempts to reorganize the bureaucracy of wildlife policy administrators have failed to produce clear improvements. "We need to assure that process leads to progress," said Crapo. "This report says we have room for improvement." Baucus said, â??Consultations are very important to protecting and recovering endangered and threatened species. However, we need to make sure the consultation process is efficient and effective, and this report indicates we can do a better job.â??The GAO report, "More Management Attention Is Needed to Improve the Consultation Process" (GAO-04-93) examines the way that federal agencies work together under the Endangered Species Act. "Consultation" is the name for the formal process. The study indicates nearly 40% percent of official consultations exceeded deadlines, and were most often late on projects posing the least risk to species. The delays also held up projects beneficial to fish, wildlife, clean water, and other conservation goals.Crapo and Baucus say the report shows that the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, now NOAA Fisheries, are struggling with the required paperwork and a lack of staff and resources as the consultation workloads have grown over the past few years. Other federal agencies are required to send a formal study to the Services, and then a second report is sent by the Services back to the first federal agency. The intended purpose of this process is to prevent harm to species, but the senators said the paperwork may be overspending time and effort on small risks at the expense of missed opportunities to promote recovery-the goal of the Endangered Species Act. "Basically, the Consultation process is how we ensure the safety of wildlife in the many activities of government-from fixing your roads to managing your parks and forests,â?? Crapo said. â??We must do this work effectively, and we must do it quickly so we can also move ahead with recovery. We must prevent harm, and then promote benefits. Otherwise, we never make progress toward recovery.â??â??While we wait for these federal agencies to wade through red tape, good projects are being delayed and other measures that could help protect species are not moving forward,â?? Baucus said. â??That is a cause for concern and shows more must be done.â??"We need to do this paperwork well so we don't set recovery back, and we need to do the paperwork efficiently so we have time and money to push recovery forward. But today we are out of balance: doing more paperwork than recovery.â?? Crapo added. "I am glad to be joined in requesting this study by my friend, Senator Baucus. He and I agree that moving quickly to aid species is a goal for which we can all strive.â?? The GAO report is available for review on the agencyâ??s website at www.gao.gov # # #