Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
As a central means of accomplishing the goals of the Act and halting species extinction, Congress placed special responsibilities on all Federal agencies to ensure that the Federal government would not contribute to the extermination of a species.
These responsibilities fall into two categories under section 7 of the act. First, under section 7(a)(1), Federal agencies are directed to use their existing authorities to promote the conservation of listed species. Second, under section 7(a)(2), Federal agencies are precluded from authorizing, funding, or carrying out activities that are likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species or destroy or adversely modify its critical habitat. Through consultation with the Service before initiating projects, the agencies review their actions to determine whether they could adversely affect listed species or their habitat.
The section 7(a)(2) consultation may be either "informal" or "formal." Informal consultation provides an assessment of a proposed project to determine if formal consultation is required or if project modifications could be implemented that remove the identified threat to the species. If an agency finds an action "may adversely affect" a listed species or its habitat, formal consultation is required. Formal consultation results in a biological opinion outlining the Service's assessment of the proposed activity and its likely impact on the listed species. If the opinion is "no-jeopardy," the action agency is free to proceed. If the project is likely to jeopardize that species, the Service attempts to identify "reasonable and prudent alternatives" that allow the project, or a modified version, to proceed.
A recent study of the Act and its implementation of section 7 found that in a 5-year period (1987-1991) the Service conducted 71,560 informal (including technical assistance given) and 2,000 formal consultations. The informal consultations increased by nine-fold and formal consultations doubled in this 5-year timeframe. Of the 2,000 formal consultations, only 350 (17 percent) resulted in a finding of likely jeopardy to the species, and only 23 (6.6 percent) of these jeopardy opinions were situations where the Service could not present an alternative that would allow the project to go forward.
The consultation requirement of section 7 is a coordination tool used in working with Federal agencies to assist them in designing their programs and projects to help conserve listed and proposed species. Since a significant number of listed species either occur on Federal lands or are potentially affected by Federal activities, the Service's coordination with other Federal agencies is crucial to species conservation and may preclude the need to list candidate species.
A significant example of section 7 contributions to recovery plan actions is acquisition and protection of endangered species habitats required under biological opinions for southern San Joaquin Valley projects in California. Approximately 4,000 acres have been acquired or protected in the Lokern Road and Semitropic Ridge areas of Kern County under past section 7 consultations, and additional acreage is being addressed in current section 7 consultations. Species that have benefitted from these consultations include the San Joaquin kit fox, blunt-nosed leopard lizard, giant kangaroo rat, and Kern mallow.
Another example of section 7 consultation promoting recovery occurred in North Carolina. A formal consultation resulted in the Forest Service developing a monitoring/protection plan for Pink Beds Bog to conserve swamp pink, a threatened plant species. This effort included documenting changes in the size and health of the population of swamp pink and the hydrology of the area. The Forest Service also implemented a management strategy for the population, rerouted a trail that was impacting the area, and developed educational materials.
Section 7 interagency cooperation can be a significant factor in the recovery of many listed species, either by Federal agencies meeting their section 7(a)(1) obligations through the implementation of conservation recommendations, or by carrying out reasonable and prudent alternatives resulting under section 7(a)(2).