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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

Caribbean's Sea Turtles, Parrots, Tree Snakes 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 the Caribbean, 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, including the Caribbean’s Puerto Rican parrots, Atlantic hawksbill sea turtles, piping plovers and Virgin Islands tree boas. 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 throughout America, and the U.S. Caribbean’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 the Caribbean’s signature species, from hawksbill sea turtles to the Puerto Rican parrot, 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

Caribbean Highlights

Hawksbill sea turtle. Known for their distinctive beak and the classic “tortoiseshell” coloring that has long made them a popular commercial attraction, these oval-shaped turtles were listed as endangered in 1970. Today they continue to be in serious decline across much of their worldwide range, but populations in U.S. territories are making significant gains. Despite protective legislation, international trade in tortoiseshell and subsistence use of meat and eggs continues in many countries, and beach nesting areas remain in constant jeopardy of being developed. Although trends are uncertain due to long intervals between hawksbill nesting generations (hawksbills take between 30 and 40 years to reach sexual maturity) numbers are increasing at protected locations. On Mona Island, Puerto Rico, the number of nests increased from 177 in 1974 to 332 in 2005.
Puerto Rican parrot.  Now one of the most endangered birds in the world, the Puerto Rican parrot would likely have gone extinct without Endangered Species Act protection. This 11-inch-long, emerald-green beauty was once ubiquitous in the lofty tropical canopies of the Puerto Rico Archipelago, with historic pre-Columbian populations estimated at somewhere between 100,000 and 1 million. The population began to drop in the mid-1600s as the human population of the islands increased, but the parrot’s dramatic decline came in the latter half of the 19th century due to deforestation. By the early 20th century, it was extirpated from all offshore islands and restricted to five locations on the main island. By 1940 it occurred only in a single population in the Luquillo Mountains in eastern Puerto Rico, and by 1975 the wild population had declined to 14 birds. Following its listing as endangered in 1967, the wild population slowly started growing, and the captive population grew more robustly. The progress of the wild population was set back when almost half the population was killed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. As of 2008, a minimum of 35 parrots survived in the wild, and two captive-breeding facilities held more than 225 individuals.
Virgin Islands tree boa. This 4-foot-long, blotched brown boa native to Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands is highly secretive, spending its days hiding in termite nests or beneath rocks and its nights slithering up trees to dine on sleeping lizards. Under favorable conditions, the tree boa can exist in high densities on small islands. But large-scale habitat destruction and the introduction of exotic predators, from the Indian mongoose to cats and rats, have caused severe population declines, leaving concentrated boa populations only on small, uninhabited cays and islets where the snakes are vulnerable to regular inundations from the ocean and storms. The boa was listed as endangered in 1970, and a federal recovery plan was developed in 1986, at which time only 71 snakes were known from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The wild population on Cayo Diablo, Puerto Rico rose from 58 in 1985 to 250 in 2004. A captive-breeding program was begun in 1985 and reintroductions were initiated in 1993 and have been very successful, including on one island where a population of 41 reintroduced boas increased over 10 years to nearly 500 snakes by 2008. On another island, 42 snakes reintroduced in 1996 increased to 170 snakes within five years. The 2009 “Five Year Review” recommended downlisting the species.
Atlantic piping plover. These sparrow-sized shorebirds, known for their staccato sprints across the edge of the surf, have long been a popular sight from the Atlantic coastal areas where they nest to the Gulf and Caribbean beaches where many of them spend the winter. But by the middle of the 20th century, their populations had been decimated — first by hunting and the millinery trade, then by habitat loss caused by recreation, development and beach-stabilization projects. Following their listing as endangered in 1986, intense nest- and predator-management programs were put in place, resulting in strong growth between 1986 and 2011. Winter population surveys in the Bahamas show their numbers increasing from just 29 in 1991 to approximately 1,000 in 2011. Overall, the U.S. population had strong growth between 1986 and 2007, increasing from 550 to 1,624 nesting pairs, marking the first time it reached its recovery goal of 1,600 pairs. Plover populations appear to be progressing toward one of the primary recovery goals: establishing 2,000 stable nesting pairs distributed across the three East Coast recovery units, from New England to the Southeast.

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