Endangered Species List has poor record

Sep 16, 2013

‘Tis the season for scoreboards! As football season is starting out and fans are talking records, predicting scores, daring to speculate on the Super Bowl, and tracking figures for their fantasy team, there are some other records to consider. When it comes to regulations, the Endangered Species List has its fair share of fumbles and penalties.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) keeps a running scoreboard on the efficacy of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the form of a pair of lists. One list includes how many species are listed domestically and abroad, while the other lists species which have been delisted, including when and why.

The current list contains 1,158 domestic species, subspecies, and geographically separate populations of species of endangered plants and animals. In addition, 327 others are listed as threatened. If one extends the list to all species considered endangered or threatened across the globe, the number is 2,106.

The other list shows 57 plant and animal species, subspecies, and geographically separate populations that have been delisted.

However, this number is misleading. Eighteen of those listings were removed due to errors being discovered in the original data which invalidated their listing, and 10 others were “delisted” because they went extinct. That leaves 29 species delisted due to recovery.

As the recovered list includes international species, it is only fair to compare the recovery number to the internationally listed number. The recovered-to-listed rate over the almost half century of the ESA’s and its predecessor’s existence is 1.4 percent.

This less than stellar success rate has spurred many to question the efficacy of the ESA. From grassroots organizations of farmers, ranchers, and land owners, to government officials, the push to reform is long-standing and ongoing.

In a late August interview with National Public Radio, Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-WY)— head of the Endangered Species Act Congressional Working Group—said ESA “could use some fine tuning.”

“The problem is once species is listed, it can almost never get off the list, because even if recovery levels are met for that species, attempts to delist it and recognize and celebrate its recovery are met with court challenges.”

She also stressed a point that most in agriculture already know; ESA implementation has been driven by litigation, not science for far too long. Lummis likened the current situation to “moving the goalposts” back after a recovery goal had been reached.

The example of gray wolves is a particularly good one for this point, where all populations have reached and exceeded their recovery goals in a surprisingly short time. Yet despite this success, environmental groups perpetually seek relisting for the species and use lawsuits to impede efforts to manage overly large populations through managed hunting.

“In short, we need a new 21st Century conservation ethic that trades courtroom antics for on-theground stewardship,” she continued in a later announcement following a meeting of the working group last week. “We can and should do better for our wildlife.”

Lummis is part of the 13-person group of House Republicans who make up the group. The purpose of the group is to “analyze the ESA from all angles,” consider what works well, ways it could be updated, and how to improve “the law’s effectiveness for both species and people.”

The working group plans a number of meetings with the public to gather public comment and experiences related to ESA’s impact, but at the time of printing there was no list of upcoming meeting dates available.


The ESA was established in 1973 with the goal to “protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend.” The act was preceded in intention and law by several species-specific laws such as the Lacy Act of 1900, the Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1929, and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940.

The more immediate predecessor to the ESA was the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966. This was the blackboard from which the modern ESA sprang in that it provided a listing and protection procedure for native plants and animals.

An amendment in 1969 extended this to international species as well.

Currently, the ESA is overseen by the FWS and the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service. According to FWS information, all species of plants and animals, except pest insects, are eligible for listing as endangered or threatened. Species, sub species, varieties, and— for vertebrates—distinct population segments are all eligible for listing.

More information

According to FWS’ lists, the following are the species which recovered after being listed:

• American Alligator (U.S.)

• Robbins’ Cinquefoil (flowering plant, U.S.)

• Tennessee purple Coneflower (flowering plant, U.S.)

• Morelet’s Crocodile (foreign) • Maguire Daisy (U.S.)

• Columbian white-tailed deer, specific population (U.S.)

• Palau ground dove (foreign) • Bald Eagle (U.S.)

• American Peregrine falcon (U.S.)

• Arctic Peregrine falcon (U.S.)

• Palau fantail Flycatcher (foreign)

• Canadian goose (U.S. and foreign)

• Kangaroo, three different species (foreign)

• Tinian Monarch (bird, foreign)

• Palau owl (foreign)

• Brown Pelican (U.S.)

• Concho water snake (U.S.)

• Lake Erie water snake (U.S. and foreign)

• Virginia flying squirrel (U.S.)

• Eggert’s Sunflower (U.S.)

• Gray Whale, specific populations (U.S. and foreign waters)

• Gray Wolf, four locationspecific populations (U.S.)

• Hoover’s Woolly star (flowering plant, U.S.)

A continually updated list of delisted species can be found online at ecos. fws.gov/tess_public/pub/ delistingReport.jsp. — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor