Endangered Species Act: Success or Failure?

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Q: Do environmentalists think the Endangered Species Act has been a success or failure with regard to protecting biodiversity in the U.S.?

While that very question has been a subject of debate already for decades, most environmental advocates are thankful such legislation is in place and proud of their government for upholding such high standards when it comes to preserving rare species of plants and animals.

That said, critics of the legislation make some solid points. For starters, only one percent of species (20 out of 2,000) under the protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) have recovered sufficiently to qualify for delisting. And the millions of dollars spent on often failed recovery efforts are difficult to justify, especially in these otherwise tough economic times.

But even though the vast majority of species protected under the ESA have not recovered doesn’t undermine the significance of those species—bald eagles, gray wolves, and grizzly bear to name a few—that have rebounded thanks to forward thinking legislation and wildlife management. Louisa Wilcox of the Natural Resources Defense Council is grateful to the ESA for the continued existence of grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park. “After listing, the government cleaned up the massive garbage problems in Yellowstone Park, which reduced the habituation of bears to human foods—a pattern that often leads to grizzly deaths,” she reports. Commercial sheep herds were moved out of core grizzly habitat while hundreds of miles of roads on public lands in the region were closed to improve the iconic bears’ chances for survival. The result: The Yellowstone grizzly population more than doubled while human/bear interactions and incursions by hungry grizzlies onto local ranches have declined. “So, by any reckoning, the Yellowstone grizzly bear story is an ESA success,” concludes Wilcox.

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To test whether or not the ESA has been effective on a grander scale, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), another leading green group, compared for its 2012 “On Time, On Target” report the actual recovery rate of 110 listed species with the projected recovery rate in their federal recovery plans. The 110 species occupy all 50 U.S. states, include all major taxonomic groups, and have various listing lengths.

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