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For Immediate Release, May 17, 2012

Contact: Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681

Study: 90 Percent of Endangered Species Recovering on Time

Alaska’s Bowhead Whales, Gray Whales, Steller Sea Lions Among Species Improving
Because of Endangered Species Act

WASHINGTON— A new Center for Biological Diversity analysis of 110 endangered species finds that 90 percent, including many in Alaska, are on track to meet recovery goals set by federal scientists. The review examined population trends of plants and animals protected by the Endangered Species Act in all 50 states, including Alaska’s bowhead whales, gray whales, Aleutian Canada geese and Steller sea lions. Again and again, the analysis finds species on a positive trajectory toward recovery — and in some cases, exceeding expectations.

“There are Endangered Species Act success stories in every state in America, and Alaska’s no exception,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center. “No other law in the world has done so much to rescue species from the brink of extinction and put them on a path to recovery. Simply put, the Act has been remarkably successful.”

The study analyzed population data for 110 species from the year each was placed on the endangered species list through 2011. Each species’ actual population trend and trajectory was compared to the timeline for recovery set out in government recovery plans. Nearly all the animals and plants are recovering on time to meet federal goals.

The study’s findings are similar to a 2006 Center analysis of all federally protected species in the Northeast, which found 93 percent were stabilized or improving since being put on the endangered species list and 82 percent were on pace to meet recovery goals.

“Some of Alaska’s signature species, from bowhead whales to Arctic peregrine falcons, are on their way to recovery thanks to the Endangered Species Act,” Suckling said.

Today’s report, which relies on data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and independent scientists, is a science-based rebuttal to attacks on the Act by critics like Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, who claims the Act is “failing badly” because only 1 percent of species have been recovered. In fact, the report finds that 80 percent of species haven’t been listed for long enough to reach their projected delisting date. On average, species have been protected for 32 years and have a typical expected recovery period of 46 years.

“Saving species from the brink of extinction — and bringing them back to a point where they’re going to survive into the future — can’t happen overnight,” Suckling said. “Calling the Act at failure at this point is like throwing away a 10-day prescription of antibiotics on the third day and saying they don’t work. It just makes no sense.”

For full recovery profiles of the 110 species — and an interactive regional map — go to

Alaska Highlights

Arctic peregrine falcon. For eons, these dramatic birds of prey, known to fly up to 200 mph during dives, could be widely found in traditional nesting areas across the Alaskan tundra. In the 1950s their populations began a precipitous drop that directly correlated to an increase in the use of the pesticide DDT, which weakened the falcons’ eggs and was found in their prey. By the early 1970s, successful reproduction had virtually ceased, and populations had decreased by as much as 80 percent. Following passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 and the falcon’s protection as an endangered species, the use of DDT and other organochlorides was severely restricted in the United States, and by 2003, the falcons’ numbers, as measured in annual migration surveys, had dramatically increased into the thousands at some counting stations, up from lows that had sunk below 50 in some areas.
Bowhead whale. Found in Arctic and sub-Arctic waters, the bowhead whale is the only baleen whale to spend its entire life near sea ice without migrating to temperate or tropical waters to calve. The largest of the whale’s five geographic management stocks, the Western Arctic stock, is the only one found in U.S. waters. Before commercial whaling was banned in 1946, its population had dropped from more than 20,000 to about 3,000. The animals were listed as endangered in 1973. With protection, the bowhead’s population nearly quadrupled to 12,000 whales by 2004. These whales remain threatened by loss of sea ice, as well as increased ship traffic, water and noise pollution associated with oil and gas development.
Eastern North Pacific gray whale. Between 1846 and 1946, commercial whalers and indigenous hunters killed approximately 27,000 of these 50-foot-long mammals once known as “devil fish” for their fierce fighting spirit. By the time they were listed as endangered in 1970, they were already extinct in the Atlantic. Between 1968 and 1998, populations of the eastern North Pacific gray whale grew from 13,426 whales to more than 20,000 animals in 1998. Gray whales in the north Pacific were deemed recovered and delisted in 1994.
Eastern population of Steller sea lion. The largest of the eared seal family, the eastern population of Steller sea lions occurs from Alaska to California. The sea lion experienced severe declines in response to massive exploitation and persecution; with protection under both the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act, the eastern population has seen dramatic population increases with the population roughly doubling and now numbering over 50,000 animals. Although recovery has been less strong in California and Oregon, the National Marine Fisheries Service issued a positive initial finding in 2012 on a petition to delist the population.

Aleutian Canada goose. Once nearly driven extinct by foxes introduced to their nesting islands in Alaska and by habitat destruction and hunting in California and Oregon, Aleutian Canada geese are today a clear success story. After a small population was found on a remote Alaskan island in the Aleutian chain, the goose was listed as an endangered species in 1967. Nonnative fox populations were controlled, nesting habitat was protected with the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge’s creation in 1980, and wintering and migration habitat was protected in California and Oregon. The Aleutian Canada goose population grew from 790 birds in 1975 to more than 60,000 in 2005. It was downlisted to “threatened” in 1990, declared recovered and removed from the endangered list in 2001, seven years earlier than projected by its recovery plan.


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