Endangered Species Act: Successes and Challenges in Agency Collaboration and the Use of Scientific Information in the Decision Making Process

GAO-05-732T Published: May 19, 2005. Publicly Released: May 19, 2005.
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The purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to conserve endangered and threatened species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. This law currently protects more than 1,260 animal and plant species. Within the Department of the Interior, the Fish and Wildlife Service implements and enforces the act. In addition, all federal agencies, such as the Department of Defense and the Bureau of Land Management, must ensure that their activities do not jeopardize a protected species' continued existence or adversely modify or destroy habitat that has been designated as critical to its survival. The Endangered Species Act and its implementation can be controversial when there are conflicting uses for a natural resource as, for example, when timber on federal lands is both habitat for endangered and threatened species and a valuable commodity to be harvested. Conflicts also occur over the adequacy or interpretation of scientific information in making species protection decisions. GAO has issued numerous reports on the implementation of the Endangered Species Act. This testimony is based primarily on four of these reports and addresses (1) collaboration among federal agencies to conserve threatened and endangered species and (2) utilization of scientific information by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

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