The western United States, including vast stretches of federal land, is home to more than a third of the 1,317 species listed under the Endangered Species Act. Under section 7 of the act, federal agencies must ensure that any actions they authorize, fund, or carry out, whether on federal or private lands, do not jeopardize listed species. To fulfill this responsibility, the agencies often must formally consult with the Department of the Interior's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), which issues a biological opinion assessing whether an action is likely to "take," or harm, a listed species. The Service may require the agencies to monitor and report on the action's effects on listed species, including take. For listed species subject to formal consultations in 11 western states, GAO was asked to examine the extent to which the Service tracks (1) required monitoring reports and (2) cumulative take. GAO reviewed the act, regulations, and policy and interviewed Service staff in all western states, reviewed 128 consultation files in five offices, and analyzed 23 listed species in detail.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of the Interior||1. To increase the Service's institutional knowledge and understanding of the effects on species of actions subject to formal consultations under the Endangered Species Act, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a simple and cost-effective method for systematically tracking all required monitoring reports, such as adding an additional field to the existing TAILS database.|
|Department of the Interior||2. To increase the Service's institutional knowledge and understanding of the effects on species of actions subject to formal consultations under the Endangered Species Act, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to continue to develop existing databases, in as strategic and expeditious a manner as possible, to enable systematic tracking of cumulative take for all species affected by formal consultations.|