Money for Listing Species Is Not Money for Recovering Species
E&E Daily reports ($) that several environmental organizations are calling for greater spending on listing species under the Endangered Species Act. In a letter to the Biden Administration these groups complain that endangered species conservation efforts are chronically underfunded and urges a dramatic increase in funding for listing species. The former concern is understandable, but the latter is questionable.
The sad reality is that the Endangered Species Act has a poor record at recovering threatened and endangered species, particularly on private land (upon which a majority of listed species depend). Further, there is empirical evidence that listing alone does little to help species, and that listing a species without providing funding for association recovery efforts may actually do more harm than good.
Here is how I summarized some of the relevant empirical evidence in “The Leaky Ark,” my introductory chapter to Rebuilding the Ark: New Perspectives on Endangered Species Act Reform.
Several recent studies suggest that listing species and funding recovery efforts are beneficial to species, and increasingly so over time. For instance, one study concluded that the longer a species is listed under the ESA, the more likely it is to be stable or improving.45 It also found that the completion of a recovery plan has a similar effect.46 There also appears to be a positive relationship between species recovery and the percentage of recovery goals set out in a species’s recovery plan achieved for that species.47 Yet another recent study found evidence that species-related spending correlates with preventing continued deterioration of a listed species status.48 Yet insofar as these studies rely upon FWS assessments of species “status trends,” they may be questioned. The data upon which status trends are based is “inconsistent and of questionable accuracy” and “trends for some species are simply the best guesses of USFWS personnel.”49 FWS assessments of species status are somewhat subjective, lack transparent criteria, and “may be manipulated to achieve agency objectives.”50
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