Recent concerns about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (Service) endangered species listing and critical habitat decisions have focused on the role that "sound science" plays in the decision-making process--whether the Service bases its decisions on adequate scientific data and properly interprets those data. In this report, GAO assesses the extent to which (1) the Service's policies and practices ensure that listing and critical habitat decisions are based on the best available science and (2) external reviewers support the scientific data and conclusions that the Service used to make those decisions. In addition, GAO highlights the nature and extent that litigation is affecting the Service's ability to effectively manage its critical habitat program.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of the Interior||Because the Service's critical habitat program faces serious challenges, the Secretary of the Interior should require the Service to provide clear strategic direction for the critical habitat program, within a specified time frame, by clarifying the role of critical habitat and how and when it should be designated, and recommending policy/guidance, regulatory, and/or legislative changes necessary to provide the greatest conservation benefit to threatened and endangered species in the most cost-effective manner.|