10 September 2012

Recovered Species Previously Under Threat and Endangerment As Listed By Endangered Species Act Need Continued Management

On December 28, 1973, US President Richard Nixon signed into law the Endangered Species Act. The law ensures the protection and conservation of species that are endangered of extinction and those that are threatened to be endangered. The law also covers and protects the ecosystems that these species depend on.

Upon signing the act, then President Nixon comments about the act, "Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed..."

The Endangered Species Act is administered by two US federal agencies, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Act defines itself as, "AN ACT To provide for the conservation of endangered and threatened species of fish, wildlife, and plants, and for other purposes."

According to the NOAA, there are about 1,990 total species protected by the act. 1,385 of these species can be found in part or entirely within the United States.

To qualify the species under the act, species are considered endangered or threatened. A species is endangered if it is in peril of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. It is threatened if the species is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future.

Endangered species listed under the act are protected from being taken, harassed, harmed, pursued, hunted, shot, wounded, killed, trapped, captured, collected or any attempt to inflict these on the species. Threatened species are also extended similar restrictions for their protection.

Continuing management needed for most threatened and endangered species

The Endangered Species Act (ESA), the key US law protecting species listed as threatened or endangered—focuses on boosting species' numbers until they reach recovery thresholds and so can be taken off the ESA list. Almost 1400 species (NOAA lists 1,385 out of 1,990 species are within US borders) are now listed. Yet as many as 84 percent of currently listed species with management plans will face threats to their biological recovery even after they are considered "recovered" under the act, according to an article by Dale D. Goble and his colleagues in the October issue of BioScience. These species will require continuing management actions. Goble and colleagues argue that individual, formal conservation agreements are the best way to help such "conservation-reliant species."

The ESA was intended to interact with state and local regulations to prevent extinction. However, say Goble and his coauthors, these regulations are often insufficient to maintain a species' population, and the ESA itself may hinder the spread of a species—for example, a landowner may not wish to create habitat for a species that will then require monitoring under the ESA. Individual conservation agreements might not only help species' biological recovery and accelerate their removal from the ESA list, Goble and his colleagues maintain—they might prevent some species from having to be listed in the first place. To be effective, such agreements should be tailored to the species, landscape, landowners, conservation managers, and sources of funding of each situation.


Recognizing that conservation reliance is a deeper and more widespread problem for ESA-listed species than initially thought, Goble and his colleagues distinguish two forms of conservation reliance—population-management reliance and the less direct, threat-management reliance. The former will involve interventions aimed at helping specific populations. The latter is suitable for species that can persist if threats are managed so that an appropriate habitat is maintained.

Both sorts are illustrated in articles in the October BioScience. Goble's article is part of a special section that includes three case studies of specific conservation-reliant species. Carol I. Bocetti and her colleagues discuss conservation management agreements that will ensure continued availability of habitat for Kirtland's warbler. J. Michael Reed and his coauthors assess the status of Hawaii's endangered birds and how continued management is needed to maintain the populations of these species. Finally, the plight of the Mojave desert tortoise and its continuing management needs are addressed by Roy C. Averill-Murray and his colleagues.


American Institute of Biological Sciences
American Institute of Biological Sciences
Endangered Species Act (ESA)
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