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Fish and Wildlife Service under Trump faulted for lack of opinions

Fish and Wildlife Service under Trump faulted for lack of opinions
© U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) did not provide an opinion on the majority of consultation requests reviewed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), despite a requirement in the Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA), according to a report released Wednesday by the GAO.

CBRA requires FWS to consult with federal agencies ahead of any major projects likely to affect federally protected coastal zones.

However, of 31 projects in fiscal 2018 and 2019 analyzed by the GAO, FWS did not provide an opinion for 18, according to the report.

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“This was most common in the two FWS regions that issued guidance in 2018 directing staff not to respond to such requests due to competing priorities,” the report states.

In 2019, the Interior Department issued an opinion expanding the FWS’s capacity to grant exemptions to the consultation requirement.

In the report, the GAO recommended FWS ensure that all agency guidance instruct individual field offices to provide consultation opinions when they receive CBRA consultation requests. The office said in its report that the Interior Department “concurred with GAO’s recommendations.”

“The Director of FWS should develop a strategy to guide FWS's efforts to review and, as necessary, update CBRS maps at least once every 5 years, as required by CBRA, including an assessment of needed resources and planned time frames,” it states.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said in a statement that the report demonstrated the need for the 2019 guidance to be replaced. If the guidance remains in place, Grijalva said, U.S. coastal resources could be damaged and preparedness for the effects of climate change could be at risk.

“We shouldn’t be dredging, digging and moving our coastlines without competent scientific analysis and consultation,” Grijalva said. “The Trump administration didn’t care about what it damaged or how much taxpayer money it wasted, but the Biden administration knows better, and this report is a wake-up call to fix this sooner rather than later.”