Monday, July 2, 2012

Endangered Species Act Success Stories

piping plover, Endangered Species Act, Doc Hastings, Center for Biological Diversity
The Atlantic Piping Plover: one of the many species
recovering thanks to the Endangered Species Act.

Last year, The Endangered Species Act (ESA) took a high profile criticism from Doc Hastings, chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources of the US House of Representatives. Hastings asserted that the act is a failure because relatively few species have been removed from the endangered list:

“The purpose of the ESA is to recover endangered species — yet this is where the current law is failing — and failing badly. Of the species listed under the ESA in the past 38 years, only 20 have been declared recovered. That’s a 1 percent recovery rate.” [The 1% figure can still be found on the Congressman’s website.]

Is that so? What should the recovery rate be?

In response to criticisms like this, this past May, the Center for Biological Diversity produced a 16-page report, On Time, On Target: How the Endangered Species Act is Saving America’s Wildlife. Authors Kieran Suckling, Noah Greenwald and Tierra Curry compared the actual recovery rate of 110 species on the list with the projected rate specified in their federal recovery plans. They found that the ESA has a strong success rate: 91% of species are recovering at the rate specified by their federal plans. Further, recovery takes time. The majority of species have not been listed long enough to warrant an expectation of recovery. Eighty 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. For example, the Florida panther has been listed for 38 years but its expected recovery time is 113 years, so it’s not project for delisting until 2085.

Another important success is that 21 species have recorded population boosts of more than 1000 percent in time periods ranging from seven to forty-four years. These include El Segundo blue butterfly (population increase of 22,000% in 27 years), Kemp’s ridley sea turtle (19,800% increase in 32 years), California least tern (2819% increase in 40 years), American crocodile (1290% increase in 32 years) and the Whooping crane (1009% increase in 44 years). Sounds pretty good to me.

piping plover, Center for Biological Diversity, Endangered Species Act, Doc Hastings 
Many other species have increased to populations near the recovery goals established in their recovery plans, such as the Atlantic piping plover (though strangely, the Canadian population is not seeing the same increase in nesting pairs). Piping plover populations plummeted due to over-hunting and the millinery trade in the 19th century. When these were eliminated, their numbers began to rise early in the 20th century, only to take another hit due to development and increased beach use by humans. Even if piping plovers are delisted in the next couple of years, they will still need our vigilance and protection on coastal beaches and nesting sites to make sure the population remains healthy.

An additional success is that 12 species are in the process of being downlisted (e.g. from critically endangered to threatened) or delisted altogether in the next five years. These include the Steller sea lion, Grizzly bear, Virgin Islands tree boa, Wood stork and California least tern.

So, the criticism is completely without scientific basis. Find out more about the many Endangered Species Act successes here. The site also contains other goodies where you can browse regions and find out more about endangered species around the country. You can also search by species groups (taxa) or from an alphabetical list. Look at the data. Get to know these species. 


  1. here is a great success story for endangered species

  2. The CBD report you cite was, I can only presume, deliberately misleading. The cited recovery rate "...91% of species are recovering at the rate specified by their federal plans..." is based on a hand-picked sample of 110 of roughly 1,400 species. The statement has been repeatedly quoted in the same way you use it here. The success rate applies only to the hand-picked less than 10% of listed species, chosen to inflate the success rate.

    Contrary to misleading unscientific statistics published by the CBD, the ESA has not, overall, been a success in part due to false fronts put up by green groups. Acknowledging the truth of the matter - the ESA is NOT succeeding, it needs help and reform - is the first step to improving the fate of the natural world and addressing extinction. If green groups refuse to acknowledge this, what hope is there to get more help for species?

    1. Presumably the authors didn't have time to gather data for all 1400 species and they state that their chosen species "range over all 50 states, include all major taxonomic groups, and have a diversity of listing lengths." Sounds like they were trying to be representative to me.

      What evidence do you have that their report is biased?

      Further, as they state and I reiterate, recovery takes time, "The majority of species have not been listed long enough to warrant an expectation of recovery."
      You can follow the above links and read the report yourself.

    2. I have read the CBD report, and numerous others from independent groups without a vested interest in either side of the argument.

      The CBD report, issued by a group with an outspoken view on the issue, which includes less than 10% of the data unsurprisingly, happens to support the view they wish to advance. This same report contradicts others such as: or articles here: and here:

      When a CBD report flagrantly contradicts evidence from scientist, and supports the CBD's viewpoint, I say that is evidence of bias. Furthermore, use of a sample of less than 10% (110) of a population (~1,400), when data for over 80% (~1,140) is available is 9th grade science at best, and flagrant cherry-picking of data at worst. Either way, CBD's study misrepresents the facts. Refusing to acknowledge the fact prevents meaningful reform and improvement.

      I find their argument regarding time on the list reasonable, and did not dispute it. It is, however, contradictory to simultaneously suggest that species have not been on the list long enough to recover, then present what you think is a "representative" sample that magically has a 91% improvement rate. Something doesn't add up there.

      Any improvement in endangered species preservation needs honest real facts upon which to base courses of actions. When the very groups who claim to support preservation deliberately cloud those facts, nothing can be done to actually make progress.

  3. There's no contradiction. You're quoting conservative think tanks and law professors. What evidence from *scientists* does the CBD report contradict?

  4. You're quoting a liberal litigation driven activist group's "study." What evidence from *scientists* are you presenting? Their statistical methods alone provide ample evidence they are either not scientists, or not doing scientific research to support their viewpoint.

    I'd hoped I'd found an interesting blog for rational. I'm sorely disappointed, and will not be returning.