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Consultation as a recovery tool.


The purpose of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is to conserve endangered and threatened species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. The consultation provisions in section 7 of the ESA play a significant role in achieving that objective by directing federal agencies to carry out programs to conserve listed species, and to ensure their actions do not jeopardize these species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat.

Section 7 consultation involves coordination between federal agencies and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service prior to carrying out, funding, or otherwise authorizing federal actions that may affect listed species or critical habitat. Adequate consideration of listed species in planning and implementing federal actions is fundamental to complying with the conservation purposes of the ESA.

The U.S. Supreme Court's 1978 decision in Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill, a well-known case involving the construction of a dam on the Tennessee River that was likely to inundate occupied critical habitat of the endangered snail darter (Percina tanasi), affirmed the preeminent role of the ESA and section 7 in shaping federal actions to conserve listed species: "The plain intent of Congress in enacting this statute was to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction, whatever the cost ... the legislative history undergirding section 7 reveals an explicit congressional decision to require agencies to afford first priority to the declared national policy of saving endangered species." Accordingly, federal agencies are encouraged to integrate conservation programs into their activities to promote the recovery of listed species.

Several noteworthy examples of such integration resulting from ESA section 7 consultations involve federal agency activities in the Pacific Northwest, California, and Indiana.

In response to the requirements of section 7, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management adopted the Pacific Northwest Forest Plan in 1994 as part of their land management responsibilities. Under the plan, large blocks of reserves are being managed for older forest habitat over an approximately 24 million-acre (9.7 million-hectare) area to address the conservation needs of the threatened northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) and a multitude of other listed and non-listed species.

On San Clemente Island in southern California, the Navy has successfully integrated conservation programs into its military mission. It has invested millions of dollars to eradicate feral goats and pigs that were causing significant damage to the habitat of native species, some of which are found nowhere else in the world. The Navy also funds ongoing research, monitoring, and habitat restoration activities on the island. Many listed species and listing candidates that occur on San Clemente Island have benefitted greatly from these conservation actions. Foremost among these recovery efforts is a world-class captive propagation and reintroduction program for the endangered San Clemente loggerhead shrike (Lanius ludovicianus mearnsi). From a low of five pairs in the wild in 1988, the shrike population increased to 82 pairs by 2009, and extinction has been averted.

For more than 30 years, the Marine Corps has funded intensive management and monitoring of the endangered California least tern (Sterna antillarum browni) and the least Bell's vireo (Vireo bellii pusillus) while carrying out its military training mission at Camp Pendleton in northern San Diego County, California. In the case of the vireo, those efforts began about five years before it was listed. As a result of these conservation actions, Camp Pendleton is home to about one-quarter of all California least terns and over one-third of all least Bell's vireos. The Marine Corps is also managing regionally significant populations of several other listed species on the Base.

At Klamath Lake in northern California, the Bureau of Reclamation operates a major water storage and delivery project for agricultural use. In conjunction with project operations, the Bureau has installed a fish screen on a major diversion canal, built a fish ladder to restore upstream movement of endangered shortnose and Lost River suckers (Chasmistes brevirostris and Deltistes luxatus, respectively) into Klamath Lake, and removed a dam on an upstream tributary to facilitate sucker spawning. Since 2002, the Bureau has funded research on the status of these fish and the factors affecting their survival. Both species have also benefitted from extensive habitat restoration funded by the Bureau.

In 1997, endangered Indiana bats (Myotis sodalis) were first documented on the Army's Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center in Indiana. At least three maternity colonies are now known to occur on this 33,000-acre (13,350-hectare) installation, giving it one of the highest concentrations of maternity colonies known across the bat's range. The Center is a very active facility, but its development has not precluded the Army from integrating Indiana bat conservation into the military mission. The Army and the Fish and Wildlife Service have cooperated to ensure that new training areas (e.g., a tank range) were developed in ways that avoid or minimize adverse impacts on Indiana bats. The Army has set aside some of the best habitat on the Center as Indiana bat management zones that are off limits to incompatible uses. The Army also has an active Indiana bat monitoring and research program on the Center.

These examples are just a few out of tens of thousands of cases nationwide where compliance with section 7 has facilitated federal conservation of listed species to varying degrees. The Fish and Wildlife Service continues to work on enhancing the effectiveness of section 7 consultations as a recovery tool by encouraging federal agencies to integrate conservation actions into their activities. In 2006, the Service initiated a national effort to establish a web-based system for the development of "conservation frameworks" that describe the needs of listed species. The intent of these frameworks is to help federal agencies determine the best management practices to consider as part of their proposed actions to promote species recovery. This tool and other types of such integration are likely to further strengthen the role of the Service's consultation program in species recovery.

Larry Salata, the Branch Chief for Consultation and Conservation Planning in the Service's Pacific Regional Office in Portland, Oregon, can be reached at or 503-231-2350.
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Author:Salata, Larry
Publication:Endangered Species Bulletin
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Jun 22, 2011
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