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Regulatory Reform

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) are working collaboratively to improve the implementation of the ESA by considering appropriate changes to our practices, guidance, policies, or regulations to enhance conservation of listed species. The objective of this effort is to ensure that key operational aspects of the ESA are up-to-date, clear, and effective. We are not seeking any changes to the ESA statute because we believe that implementation can be significantly improved through rulemaking and policy formulation.

Florida Panther
  Florida Panther.
Connie Bransilver, USFWS

To improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the ESA in conserving endangered and threatened species, the Service and NOAA Fisheries have begun a renewed effort to identify areas where changes in ESA implementing regulations and policies may reduce burdens, redundancy, and conflict, and at the same time promote predictability, certainty, and innovation. This effort is guided by the following objectives, which conform with the principles espoused in President Obama's Executive Order 13563, "Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review"  and the Service's vision for the Endangered and Threatened Species Program: 

  • Improving the effectiveness of the ESA to conserve imperiled species;
  • Making administrative procedures as efficient as possible;
  • Improving the clarity and consistency of our regulations through, among other things, the use of plain language and by providing more precise definitions of many of our key terms;
  • Encouraging more effective conservation partnerships with other Federal agencies, the states, tribes, conservation organizations, and private landowners;
  • Encouraging innovation and cooperation in the implementation of the ESA; and
  • Reducing the frequency and intensity of conflicts when possible.

The Service and NOAA Fisheries seek to be open and transparent in our efforts to improve ESA implementation through ESA regulatory reform and meet the goals of promoting public participation, improving integration and innovation, increasing flexibility where possible, ensuring scientific integrity, and increasing our analysis of existing rules as set forth in Executive Order 13563. 

Focus Areas for Regulatory Improvement
The Service has identified key regulations and associated policies where there is both a need and opportunity for improving administration of the Endangered Species Act. The following changes to the ESA implementing regulations or policies will improve conservation effectiveness, reduce administrative burden, enhance clarity and consistency for agency staff and impacted stakeholders, and encourage partnerships, innovation, and cooperation:

  • Improve the efficiency and effectiveness of designation of critical habitat by
    • Minimizing requirements for written descriptions of critical habitat boundaries in favor of map- and internet-based descriptions.
    • Reviewing and revising the process for designating critical habitat to design a more efficient, defensible, and consistent process.
    • Clarifying the definition of the phrase "destruction or adverse modification" of critical habitat, which is used to determine what actions can and cannot be conducted in critical habitat.
  • Clarify, expedite, and improve procedures for the development and approval of conservation agreements with landowners, including habitat conservation plans, safe harbor agreements, and candidate conservation agreements.
  • Expand opportunities for the states to engage more often and more effectively in the implementation of the ESA's various provisions, especially those pertaining to the listing of species.
  • Clarify the scope and content of the incidental take statement, particularly with regard to programmatic actions or other actions where direct measurement is difficult. 
  • Working through an interagency group of senior policy leaders from FWS, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency, craft a multi-facted strategy to address the challenge of the conservation of endangered species and the administration of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).



Learn More About Our
Regulatory Reform Efforts

Willamette daisy by Dillon/USFWS
    Willamette daisy.
     Jeff Dillon, USFWS





Last updated: February 8, 2013