TESTIMONY OF DON KNOWLES NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICENATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATIONDEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE
LISTING AND DELISTING OF SPECIES UNDER THE ESA
SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS SUBCOMMITTEE ON FISHERIES, WILDLIFE AND DRINKING WATER
MAY 9, 2001
Mr. Chairman, my name is Don Knowles and I am Director of the Office of Protected Resources in the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), an agency of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Thank you for the opportunity to testify on the process we use to list and delist species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The ESA provides for the recovery of threatened and endangered species and the conservation of their ecosystems. Terms such as conservation, species, threatened, endangered, and critical habitat are defined in the Act. Section 4 elaborates on listing, delisting, critical habitat and recovery. This section states that listing determinations are to be made solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available after conducting a review of the status of the species and after taking into account those conservation efforts, if any, being made by any locality, State, foreign nation or tribal government. In the 1988 amendments to the Act, the word Asolely@ was added to the above criteria to expedite the listing process and to prevent non-biological considerations, such as economic impacts, from affecting listing determinations. The Act also requires recovery plans that include specific management actions that will achieve the plan=s goal. Plans must include measurable criteria, which, when met, will result in removing the species from the list.
Implementing regulations for listing, delisting, or designation of critical habitat were developed jointly with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The process for listing usually begins when we receive a petition to list a species. In some cases, when we have information indicating that a species may warrant listing, NMFS will begin the process without a petition. The next step is to evaluate the status of the species, that is, to conduct a status review. Based on the status of the species and after taking into account efforts made by others, NMFS will determine whether it is warranted to propose to list a species. Within one year of the proposal, NMFS will make a final determination on whether listing is warranted. In addition to implementing regulations, we have issued joint policies that elaborate on the listing and delisting process. For example, in 1994 NMFS and FWS issued a policy to clarify the role of peer review in ESA activities and a policy to provide criteria, establish procedures, and provide guidance to ensure that decisions made by the Services under the ESA meet the law=s requirements. NMFS has also issued guidance on listing and recovery priorities as well as guidance on developing recovery plans. We plan to update the recovery plan guidance this year.
Overview of NMFS= Protected Species Program
NMFS is currently responsible for 55 species listed under the ESA, including marine mammals, sea turtles, plants, salmon and other fish. Of these, 26 are salmon and steelhead in California and the Pacific Northwest [Alaska currently contains no listed salmon species]. Only one NMFS species, the California gray whale, has recovered to the point where it could be delisted. However, several other species have stabilized and we consider this a successful result of the ESA.
To be sure, NMFS' listing decisions have been the subject of litigation, especially with regard to West Coast salmon and steelhead. NMFS has lost some cases and learned valuable lessons. To address the issue of whether NMFS' decisions were based on the best available science, NMFS collected information from the Pacific Salmon Biological Technical Committees and interested parties in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California. NMFS also established a Biological Review Team (BRT) to review available information. While these efforts have not eliminated lawsuits, they have helped NMFS gather the best available science. For all the species under NMFS' jurisdiction, NMFS
continues to look for new ways to ensure that it uses the best available science in its decision making.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for this opportunity to testify. I look forward to answering any questions.