Bookmark and Share

More press releases

For Immediate Release, May 17, 2012

Contact: Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681

Study: 90 Percent of Endangered Species Recovering on Time

Florida's Crocodiles, Manatees, Sea Turtles 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 Florida, 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 Florida’s American crocodiles, manatees, woodstorks and Atlantic green sea turtles. 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 Florida’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 Florida’s signature species, from Florida manatees to American crocodiles, 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

Florida Highlights

American crocodile. In pre-Columbian days, the coastal tip of South Florida was literally crawling with thousands of American crocodiles. By the time they were listed as endangered in 1975, hunting for sport and skins as well as overcollection for zoos and museums had reduced their numbers to as few as 200. With the entire population, including only 10 to 20 breeding females, living in one small area of northeastern Florida Bay, American crocodiles were in stark danger of becoming little more than a memory. But only eight years after gaining Endangered Species Act protection, populations had grown to about 1,000, and crocodiles had already returned to much of their historic range, from Biscayne Bay and Key Largo to Florida’s southwestern coast. In 2005 the crocodiles’ numbers reached 2,085, and two years later the species was downlisted to threatened.
Atlantic green sea turtle. Once a common sight in coastal waters stretching from Massachusetts to the Caribbean and Texas, the 3- to 4-foot-long turtles, known to migrate more than 1,000 miles to return to a specific nesting site, were nearly depleted by overharvest and fishing bycatch as well as by nest and habitat destruction. In 1978 they were listed as endangered. Following Endangered Species Act protection, nests in Florida, the most critical nesting area in the United States, steadily increased. In 1990 there were 2,100 nests in Florida, and there were 8,500 nests in 2010. In 2005 the turtles expanded their nesting range north to Virginia, a significant step toward recovery. Nesting also occurs on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Delisting is expected as early as 2015.
Florida manatee. These gentle, 10- to 12-foot aquatic relatives of the elephant occur in waters of the southeastern United States, primarily in Florida and southeastern Georgia, but can occasionally range as far north as Rhode Island and perhaps as far west as Texas. Battered by boats, water-control structures and loss of habitat, populations had shrunk below 2,000 by the time manatees were listed as an endangered species in 1967. Despite evidence that manatee deaths have increased in Florida over the past 25 years, the population has increased from 1,478 animals in 1991 to 4,834 in 2011. This year, the manatee is expected to be downlisted to threatened, though boat strikes remain a real threat.
Key deer. These German-shepherd size white-tailed deer, once pushed to the brink of extinction by overhunting and development, were saved by a string of strange events. Hunting of Key deer was banned in 1939 after a political cartoon depicted a scene, witnessed by the cartoonist, of fire being used to force deer toward hunters waiting in boats. Lacking a warden to enforce the hunting ban and deter poachers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hired Jack C. Watson, a no-nonsense, machine-gun-wielding enforcer, to patrol 1 million acres. Taking a different approach, 11-year-old Glenn Allen wrote a letter to President Truman in 1947 asking him to establish a national wildlife refuge to save the Key deer. Letters to Congress and President Eisenhower followed. Boy Scout troops across the country took up the cause; environmental groups and the Fish and Wildlife Service joined in, and eventually two national wildlife refuges were established. After being listed as endangered in 1973, the Key deer population increased from about 200 in 1971 to more than 800 in 2011. Rising sea levels from climate change pose a significant new threat.
Okaloosa darter. Five years after its 1973 listing as endangered, population estimates for these small, perch-like fish, endemic to six streams in western Florida, ranged from 1,500 to 10,000. More than 90 percent of the fish’s watershed is on Eglin Air Force Base, and the base has played a key role in its protection by implementing an effective habitat-restoration program. Since 1995 the Air Force base has restored 317 sites covering 485 acres that were eroding into streams inhabited by Okaloosa darters. Those efforts, coupled with broader projects the Air Force base participated in to clear waterways of impediments that isolated darter populations, have helped push estimated fish populations to more than 800,000.
Wood stork. Traditionally seen fishing among cypress stands in the marshes and swamps of southeastern coastal states, this wading bird whose wingspan can reach 6 feet saw its population decline from an estimated high of 20,000 pairs in the 1930s to as low as 4,500 pairs by 1977. At the time it was listed as endangered in 1984, the number of nesting colonies had dropped to 29, primarily due to loss of suitable feeding habitat, particularly in south Florida, where manipulation of water levels through levees, canals and floodgates altered habitat. The number of nesting colonies increased to 71 in 2002, and the number of nesting pairs increased from an estimated 6,245 in 1984 to 11,279 in 2006. Because of a drought in Florida, the nesting-pair population fell to fewer than 6,000 in 2007 before rebounding to approximately 12,000 in 2009. Reclassification from “endangered” to “threatened” can be considered when there are 6,000 nesting pairs with annual regional productivity of greater than 1.5 chicks per nest per year when averaged over three years. The wood stork was recommended for downlisting in 2007 and received a positive 90-day finding to downlist in 2010.

Go back