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Fish and Wildlife Service

Overview

The following provides an overview of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its environmental programs related to transportation. Topics include the following:

 

Background

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), a bureau within the federal Department of the Interior, is the coordinating agency that state transportation officials engaged in building of roads or other transportation projects must consult if there is a potential effect on endangered species. FWS' stated mission is to work with others "to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people."

Among FWS' key functions are to enforce federal wildlife laws, protect endangered species, manage migratory birds, and to conserve and restore wildlife habitat such as wetlands. FWS notes that "the vast majority of fish and wildlife habitat is on non-Federal lands."

FWS manages the 93 million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System of more than 520 National Wildlife Refuges and thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas.

FWS employs about 7,500 people at facilities across the United States. It is a decentralized organization with a headquarters office in Washington, D.C., seven geographic regional offices, and nearly 700 field units. Among these are national wildlife refuges, national fish hatcheries and management assistance offices, law enforcement, and ecological services field stations.

Endangered species regional offices administer native endangered and threatened species permits under the Endangered Species Act. Permits are issued to qualified applicants for a number of types of activities, including incidental take associated with Habitat Conservation Plans, recovery, and interstate commerce.

For further information on what FWS does, consult FWS's "Who We Are" page on its website.

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Endangered Species Act

The Endangered Species Act (ESA), administered by FWS, provides broad protection for species of insects, birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, crustaceans, grasses, flowers and trees that are listed or threatened or endangered in the United States or elsewhere. Provisions are made for listing species, as well as for recovery plans and the designation of critical habitat for listed species. The Act outlines procedures for federal agencies to follow when taking actions that may jeopardize species, and contains exceptions and exemptions. The FWS maintains the list of endangered species and threatened species, including plants. Anyone can petition FWS to include a species on this list. The law prohibits any action, administrative or real, that results in a "taking" of a listed species, or adversely affects habitat. Likewise, import, export, interstate, and foreign commerce of listed species are all prohibited.

The Endangered Species Act, with some exceptions, prohibits activities affecting threatened and endangered species unless authorized by a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations—Fisheries.

Endangered species permits authorize actions that can potentially impact a species’ recovery. Before issuing a permit, FWS invites public comment on it. A proposed activity may also require a state permit. FWS advises contacting one's state wildlife agencies for additional information. Getting a permit from FWS is contingent upon obtaining any required state permit.

ESA Section 6 provides that the Secretary of the Interior must cooperate to "the maximum extent practicable" with the states, including consulting with a state before acquiring land, water or interests for conservation of listed species. The Secretary can enter into agreements with states for administration and management of areas established for conservation of listed species. Cooperative agreements may also be entered into with those states that establish and maintain adequate and active programs for conservation of listed species.  Provision is made for public participation in the listing process. Cooperative agreements also may be entered into for conservation of listed resident plant species.

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Consultations with Federal Agencies

ESA Section 7 directs all Federal agencies to use their existing authorities to conserve threatened and endangered species and, in consultation with the Service, to ensure that their actions do not jeopardize listed species or destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. Section 7 applies to management of Federal lands as well as other Federal actions that may affect listed species, such as Federal approval of private activities through the issuance of Federal permits, licenses, or other actions. For more information, please see the Consultations With Federal Agencies fact sheet.  

FWS and the Federal Highway Administration have provided joint guidance to streamline compliance with Endangered Species Act requirements for transportation projects under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. See Department of Transportation Programmatic Consultation Guidance.

FWS also is a participating agency on the Interagency Task Force established under the Executive Order 13274, Environmental Stewardship and Transportation Infrastructure Reviews. The Task Force is charged with promoting interagency cooperation and establishment of appropriate mechanisms to coordinate Federal, State, tribal, and local agency consultation, review, approval, and permitting of transportation infrastructure projects. 
For more background on the ESA, please see the FWS Web site ESA and What We Do.

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