Over 100 endangered species on course for recovery in the United States

Posted: 22 May 2012

Critics of the US Endangered Species Act, signed into law by President Nixon in 1973, have deemed it a failure but, says a new study, 90 percent of the species studied are, in fact, recovering on time to meet the recovery goals set by federal scientists.

The report issued on Endangered Species Day (18 May), by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), took an in-depth look at 110 protected species from all 50 American states - from whales and sea turtles to foxes and whooping cranes - to determine how well the Act is working for them.

Contrary to those who criticise the Act on the ground that only 1 percent of the species under its protection have recovered and been delisted, the report says the actual recovery rate of the species studied is what matters – and how it relates to federal recovery plans..

The species studied range over all 50 states, include all major taxonomic groups, and have a diversity of listing lengths. It found that the Endangered Species Act has had a remarkably successful recovery rate.

A regional map of species recovering around the United States can be seen here.

On average, species recovered in 25 years, while their recovery plan predicted 23 years - a 91 percent timeliness accomplishment.

Remarkably successful

The study confirmed the conclusion of scientists and auditors who assert that the great majority of species have not been listed long enough to warrant an expectation of recovery: 80 percent of species have not yet reached their expected recovery year. On average, these species have been listed for just 32 years, while their recovery plans required 46 years of listing.

The study's findings are similar to a 2006 analysis of all federally protected species in the Northeast, which found 93 percent were stabilized or improving since being put on the endangered species list and 82 percent were on pace to meet recovery goals.

“When judged in the light of meeting recovery plan timelines for recovery, the Endangered Species Act is remarkably successful. Few laws of any kind can boast a 90 percent success rate” says the report.

As of July 29, 2009, the government says there were 1,890 species on the threatened and endangered lists. However, many species have become extinct while under consideration for listing. By November last year, fifty-one species had been delisted; but only 23 due to recovery - ten due to extinction (seven of which are believed to have been extinct prior to being listed), ten due to changes in classification practices and six due to discovery of new populations.

Here are a few examples of recovering species:

Aleutian Canada goose
Aleutian Canada goose.

Aleutian Canada goose. Once nearly driven extinct by foxes introduced to their nesting islands in Alaska and by habitat destruction and hunting in California and Oregon, Aleutian Canada geese are today a clear success story. After a small population was found on a remote Alaskan island in the Aleutian chain, the goose was listed as an endangered species in 1967. Non-native fox populations were controlled, nesting habitat was protected with the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge’s creation in 1980, and wintering and migration habitat was protected in California and Oregon. The Aleutian Canada goose population grew from 790 birds in 1975 to more than 60,000 in 2005. It was downlisted to “threatened” in 1990, declared recovered and removed from the endangered list in 2001, seven years earlier than projected by its recovery plan.

American crocodile
American crocodile.

American crocodile. In pre-Columbian days, the coastal tip of South Florida was literally crawling with thousands of American crocodiles. By the time they were listed as endangered in 1975, hunting for sport and skins as well as overcollection for zoos and museums had reduced their numbers to as few as 200. With the entire population, including only 10 to 20 breeding females, living in one small area of northeastern Florida Bay, American crocodiles were in stark danger of becoming little more than a memory. But only eight years after gaining Endangered Species Act protection, populations had grown to about 1,000, and crocodiles had already returned to much of their historic range, from Biscayne Bay and Key Largo to Florida’s southwestern coast. In 2005 the crocodiles’ numbers reached 2,085, and two years later the species was downlisted to threatened.

Short-nosed sturgeon
Short-nosed sturgeon.

Shortnose sturgeon. Once found in rivers and estuaries along the Atlantic seaboard, the shortnose sturgeon was nearly driven extinct by overfishing, bycatch, river damming, habitat destruction and poor water quality. It was placed on the endangered list in 1967, and now at least five populations have increased. One of the most impressive sites has been New York’s Hudson River, where fishing prohibitions and habitat protection efforts increased the population from 12,669 in 1979 to more than 60,000 today. Some biologists have suggested removing the Hudson River population from the endangered list as a recovered species.  

You can read a copy of the report, “On Time, On Target: How the Endangered Species Act Is Saving America’s Wildlife” here.