Endangered Species:

Fish and Wildlife Service Generally Focuses Recovery Funding on High-Priority Species, but Needs to Periodically Assess Its Funding Decisions

GAO-05-211: Published: Apr 6, 2005. Publicly Released: Apr 25, 2005.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Robin M. Nazzaro
(202) 512-6246
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

Currently there are more than 1,260 species listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. While few species have gone extinct since 1973, only 9 have been "recovered" or removed from the list because they no longer need the act's protection. This has raised questions about how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) allocates its recovery funds. Proponents of the act believe that the Service's recovery funds are only a small fraction of what is needed to make greater recovery progress. The act and agency guidelines require the Service to prioritize species to guide recovery fund allocation. In fiscal year 2000 through 2003, the Service spent $127 million dollars in recovery funds attributable to individual species. In this report, GAO analyzed (1) the extent to which the Service's allocation of recovery funds compares with its recovery priority guidelines and (2) what factors influence the Service's recovery allocation decisions.

The Service spent its recovery funds in a manner generally consistent with species priority in fiscal years 2000 through 2003, spending almost half (44 percent) of the $127 million on the highest priority species (see figure below). Species in the next two highest priority groups received almost all of the remaining recovery funds (51 percent). Species in the three lowest priority groups received very little funding (6 percent). Most listed species (92 percent) are in the top three priority groups. When Service officials allocate recovery funds, they base their decisions to a significant extent on factors other than a species' priority ranking. At the headquarters level, a formula that focuses on each region's workload determines how recovery funds are allocated to regional offices. Each regional office allocates its recovery funds to their field offices differently, but in no case is priority ranking the driving factor. Instead, regional officials focus primarily on opportunities for partnerships, though they told us that they also focus on species facing the gravest threats. Field office staff we spoke with emphasized the importance of pursuing funding partnerships in order to maximize their scarce recovery funds. The Service does not know the effect of these disparate allocation systems because it does not have a process to routinely measure the extent to which it is spending its recovery funds on higher priority species. While we found that for fiscal years 2000 through 2003 the Service spent a majority of its recovery funds on high priority species, without periodically assessing its funding decisions, the Service cannot ensure that it spends its recovery funds on the species that are of the greatest priority and, in cases where it does not, determine whether its funding decisions are appropriate.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the Service allocates recovery resources consistent with the priority guidelines over the long term and in a transparent fashion, the Secretary of the Interior should require the Service to periodically assess the extent to which it is following its recovery priority guidelines and identify how factors other than those in the guidelines are affecting its funding allocation decisions.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has made plans to assess recovery program funds periodically and identify factors other than priority number that may have influenced the level of funding certain species receive in its recovery expenditure reports. The first report in which this assessment is to be done is in its report on threatened and endangered species expenditures for fiscal year 2008 that is expected to be issued in December 2009.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the Service allocates recovery resources consistent with the priority guidelines over the long term and in a transparent fashion, the Secretary of the Interior should require the Service to report this information publicly, for example, in its biennial recovery report to Congress.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) plans to assess recovery program funds periodically and identify factors other than priority number that may have influenced the level of funding certain species receive in its recovery expenditure reports. The first report in which this assessment is to be done is in its report on threatened and endangered species expenditures for fiscal year 2008 that is expected to be issued in December 2009. This is a public report that FWS posts on its website.

    Apr 15, 2014

    Mar 4, 2014

    Feb 27, 2014

    Feb 19, 2014

    Feb 12, 2014

    Feb 10, 2014

    Feb 4, 2014

    Jan 22, 2014

    Jan 13, 2014

    Looking for more? Browse all our products here