Friday March 3, 2023

Center for California Water Resources Policy and Management

In its evolving effort to meet Congress’s directive that determinations under the federal Endangered Species Act should be informed by the “best available scientific and commercial data” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service uses Species Status Assessments “to deliver foundational science” to support its decisions.  While this process does not typically garner much attention beyond that of the agency, the recent proposal to list longfin smelt as endangered has highlighted the SSA’s importance and brought to light some assessment elements that can be improved. 

By way of background, the Service intends the Assessments to provide “focused, repeatable, and rigorous scientific assessment” that results in “improved and more transparent and defensible decision making, and clearer and more concise documents.” The Service overhauled its guidance on the preparation of Species Status Assessments (SSAs) in 2015 and 2016, issuing a Species Status Assessment Framework (Framework). The Framework instructs SSA “teams” to analyze information in three iterative assessment “stages” – species’ needs, current species’ condition, and future species’ condition – to produce “a scientifically rigorous characterization of species status that focuses on the likelihood that the species will sustain populations within its ecological settings along with key uncertainties in that characterization.”

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