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Endangered Species Act: Consideration of Economic Factors

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Publication Date: April 2003

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Topic: Environment (Animals)


The Endangered Species Act (ESA) provides for the listing and protection of species that are found to be "endangered" or "threatened" - species that might become extinct. The listing of a species as endangered triggers the prohibitions in the Act against "taking" (killing or harming) individuals of the protected species, unless a permit is obtained to take individuals incidental to an otherwise lawful proposed action, or an exemption for the proposed action is obtained. Unauthorized taking of a listed species can result in civil or criminal penalties. These prohibitions and potential penalties can affect various activities, including development and use of land, with attendant economic impacts. Therefore, the extent to which likely economic impacts can be taken into account under the ESA has generated interest and discussion.

The determination of whether a species should be listed as endangered or threatened must be based "solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available." ("Commercial data" here refers to trade data.) The data that may be considered at the listing stage may include facts related to a species' population, habitat, distribution, etc., as well as threats to its continued survival, but must not include economic factors.

However, economic factors may be, and in some instances must be, considered in devising responses to the listing of a species - e.g. in the designation of critical habitat, in the process for obtaining an exemption for a particular proposed action from the prohibitions of the ESA, and in the development of the recovery plan for a listed species. Economic factors also play less direct roles in the permitting processes.

Parts of the ESA relate to commercial importation and trade in listed species. This report does not address those issues, but rather discusses the ESA generally, aside from the commercial context, and how some of its provisions relate to the consideration of economic factors. It will be updated as circumstances warrant.


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