Science-driven strategies for more effective endangered species recovery

The US Endangered Species Act can protect more species, more effectively, through expanded partnerships and science-driven implementation ecologists say in the Winter 2016 edition of Issues in Ecology

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, 6 January 2016
Contact: Liza Lester, 202-833-8773 ext. 211, LLester@esa.org

 

An endangered California condor soars through the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge in California, where captive-bred birds are released into the wild. Condor conservation benefits from unusually rigorous population monitoring compared to most recovery programs for endangered species. Credit, USFWS.

An endangered California condor soars through the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge in California, where captive-bred birds are released into the wild. Condor conservation benefits from unusually rigorous population monitoring compared to most recovery programs for endangered species. In the Winter 2016 edition of Issues in Ecology, Dan Evans and colleagues press for the extension of monitoring to other, less famous endangered species. Credit, USFWS.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA), which quietly passed its 42nd birthday last week, has shielded hundreds of species in the United States from extinction and dramatically achieved full recovery for a celebrated few. Flexibility of implementation is one of the ESA’s great strengths, allowing for adaptation in response to new knowledge and changing social and environmental conditions.

In a report released by the Ecological Society of America today, 18 conservation researchers and practitioners propose six broad strategies to raise the effectiveness of the ESA for endangered species recovery, based on a thorough review of the scientific literature on the status and performance of the law.

“The ESA is one of our country’s strongest environmental laws, but it has only partly fulfilled its conservation promise,” said Daniel Evans, who led the report while serving as a policy fellow at the United States Forest Service. “Innovation will be key to implementing the ESA in the coming decades because the threats to at-risk species are pervasive and persistent. Many listed species are conservation-reliant, requiring ongoing management for the foreseeable future, and climate change will continue to shuffle the mix of species in ecosystems, increasing both extinction risk and management uncertainty.”

The ESA grants the administering agencies, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), discretion to interpret the requirements of the law, including the meaning of “endangered.” The agencies determine the management actions needed for species protection and recovery and prioritize conservation efforts. Funding for conservation actions under the ESA has not kept pace with the growth of the US economy, increased environmental pressures due to development and encroachment of invasive species, and the subsequence expansion of the number of species at risk.

“Throughout the ESA’s 42-year history, government funding has been insufficient to recover most listed species and funding has been highly skewed among groups of species. For example, as we discuss in the paper, from 1998 to 2012 over 80 percent of all government spending went to only 5 percent of all listed species,” said Evans.

The number of officially endangered species has grown from the original 78 species listed by the ESA’s forerunner, the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966, to 1,590 listed as endangered or threatened in January 2016. Only 32 species have recovered sufficiently to be removed from the list. It is likely that some species may remain indefinitely “conservation-reliant” after recovering to sustainable numbers.  Reliant species require consistent interventions to maintain historic habitat, connect small genetic populations isolated by development, or control predators, competing invasive species, or parasites. These species are more complicated to graduate from the list than success stories such as the bald eagle, which went from 417 nesting pairs in 1963 to more than 11,000 in 2007.

In “Species recovery in the United States: increasing the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act,” the 20th report in the Ecological Society’s series Issues in Ecology, Evans and colleagues recommend that the administering federal agencies, state natural resource management agencies, Native American tribes, and their conservation partners:

  • Establish and consistently apply a system for prioritizing recovery funding to maximize strategic outcomes for listed species
  • Strengthen partnerships for species recovery
  • Promote more monitoring and consistently implement and refine approaches for adaptive management
  • Refine methods to develop recovery criteria based on the best available science
  • Use climate-smart conservation strategies
  • Evaluate and develop ecosystem-based approaches that can increase the efficiency of managing for recovery

“By adopting these strategies, conservation managers, policymakers, scientists, and the public can use the ESA more effectively and efficiently to save species at risk,” said Evans.


Species recovery in the United States: increasing the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act. Daniel M. Evans, Judy P. Che-Castaldo, Deborah Crouse, Frank W. Davis, Rebecca Epanchin-Niell, Curtis H. Flather, R. Kipp Frohlich, Dale D. Goble, Ya-Wei Li, Timothy D. Male, Lawrence L. Master, Matthew P. Moskwik, Maile C. Neel, Barry R. Noon, Camille Parmesan, Mark W. Schwartz, J. Michael Scott, and Byron K. Williams. Issues in Ecology #20, Winter 2016. [pdf]

Funding for this project was provided by Cooperative Agreement 12-CA-11221633-096 between the USDA Forest Service and the Ecological Society of America. Other funding and services were provided by Resources for the Future.


The Ecological Society of America, founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 10,000 member Society publishes six journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org

Issues in Ecology is an official publication of ESA, using commonly-understood language to report the consensus of a panel of scientific experts on issues related to the environment. Issues in Ecology aims to build public understanding of the importance of the products and services provided by the environment to society. The text for every Issues in Ecology is reviewed for technical content by external expert reviewers. http://www.esa.org/esa/science/issues/ 

Innovations for Endangered Species Recovery

40 years after enactment of the Endangered Species Act, shifting public priorities remain an uphill battle.

ESA2014 Sacramento logo

99th Annual Meeting
The Ecological Society of America

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, August 7, 2014
Contact: Terence Houston 202 833-8773 x224; terence@esa.org
Liza Lester (202) 833-8773 x 211; llester@esa.org

 

Conservation researchers and managers will discuss how prospects for endangered species recovery have changed since the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was passed in 1973 and present innovative strategies for improving the act’s implementation on August 12th, 2014, at Ecological Society of America’s 99th Annual Meeting in Sacramento, California.

The session is spearheaded by American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Policy Fellow Daniel M. Evans.

“Innovation will be key to implementing the ESA in the coming decades because the ecological threats to at-risk species are pervasive and persistent; many listed species are conservation reliant, requiring ongoing management for the foreseeable future; and climate change will continue to shuffle the mix of species in ecosystems, increasing both extinction risk and management uncertainty,” said Evans.

“Moreover, throughout the ESA’s 40-year history, government funding has been insufficient to recover most listed species, and without a dramatic shift in public priorities funding for endangered and threatened species will likely remain insufficient,” he said.

The speakers assembled for the symposium will discuss ways to address these problems. Dale Goble, a Professor of Law at the University of Idaho, will kick off the session by describing how the ESA is a flexible law that permits considerable innovation in its implementation.

J. Michael Scott, a conservation scientist from the US Geological Survey and the University of Idaho, will discuss strategies for recovering and delisting the “conservation-reliant” species that require ongoing management.

University of Texas scientists Camille Parmesean and Matthew Moskwik will present climate-smart strategies to conserve and recover species in the face of rapid climate change.

Rebecca Epanchin-Neil, a resource economist from Resources for the Future, will evaluate and recommend programs for government agencies to partner with private landowners to recover ESA-listed species.

Additional speakers include Maile Neel (University of Maryland), Debby Crouse (US Fish and Wildlife Service), and Healy Hamilton (NatureServe).

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Ecological Society of America’s 99th Annual Meeting, August 10-15th, 2014, in Sacramento, Cal.

Main * Program * Press Information * App

Organized oral session 13: Innovations for Endangered Species Recovery
Tuesday, August 12, 2014: 1:30 PM-5:00 PM
Organizer: Daniel M Evans; Co-organizer: Terence Houston

 

The Quino Checkerspot Butterfly (Euphydryas editha quino) is federally listed as “Endangered” throughout its range in California and New Mexico. Credit, US Fish and Wildlife Service

The Quino Checkerspot Butterfly (Euphydryas editha quino) is federally listed as “Endangered” throughout its range in California and New Mexico. Credit, US Fish and Wildlife Service.


The Ecological Society of America is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge. ESA is committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 10,000 member Society publishes five journals, convenes an annual scientific conference, and broadly shares ecological information through policy and media outreach and education initiatives. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org.

To subscribe to ESA press releases, contact Liza Lester at llester@esa.org.