|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
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),
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.
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.