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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

Northeast’s Red-bellied Turtles, Atlantic Piping Plovers, Shortnose Sturgeon 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 Northeast, 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 the Northeast’s Plymouth red-bellied turtles, Atlantic piping plovers, shortnose sturgeon and a yellow-flowered plant called Robbins’ cinquefoil. 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 part of America, and the Northeast’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 Northeast’s signature species, from bald eagles to shortnose sturgeon, 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

Northeast Highlights

Shortnose sturgeon. Once found in rivers and estuaries along the Atlantic seaboard, the shortnose sturgeon was nearly driven extinct by overfishing, bycatch, river damming, habitat destruction and poor water quality. It was placed on the endangered list in 1967, and now at least five populations have increased since listing. One of the most impressive sites has been New York’s Hudson River, where fishing prohibitions and habitat protection efforts increased the population from 12,669 in 1979 to more than 60,000 today. Some biologists have suggested removing the Hudson River population from the endangered list as a recovered 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.
Red-bellied turtle, Plymouth population. These foot-long freshwater turtles with highly domed shells once occurred in most of Massachusetts’ coastal counties. The loss of historic populations to development and increased predation reduced the range of the turtle to just Plymouth County, and the turtle was listed as endangered in 1980. An aggressive habitat management and rearing program has allowed the range to expand and the population to increase. All nests discovered each year are caged to protect the eggs and hatchlings from predators. When hatching is complete, 50 percent of the hatchlings are released into the same pond, and 50 percent are moved to headstarting facilities that raise them to a size that is less vulnerable to predation. The headstarted turtles are reintroduced to the same or new sites. Between 1985 and 2006, the program released 2,725 turtles. At the time of listing in 1980 there were fewer than 50 turtles in 12 ponds. As of 2007 the total population size was estimated to be 400 to 600 breeding-age individuals distributed in 20 ponds.
Bald eagle. Our national bird began its decline in the 19th century at the hands of trophy hunters, feather collectors and outright wanton killing. It had already been extirpated or reduced to low numbers in most states by the 1940s, when DDT and other organochlorides came into wide use and almost drove it to extinction. In 1967 bald eagles were listed as endangered in the lower 48 states. In 1970 the eagles were joined on the list by American peregrine falcons, Arctic peregrine falcons and brown pelicans. The listing of these large, charismatic birds rallied the nation to ban the production and sale of DDT in 1972. Because of this ban, increased habitat protection and aggressive captive-breeding and translocation programs, bald eagle pairs in the lower 48 soared from 416 in 1963 to 11,052 in 2007, when the species was removed from federal protection. In New England, the eagles had been virtually eliminated by the early 1970s, with only about 25 nesting pairs remaining. By 2007 that number had grown to more than 750, led by Maine with 414, New York with 123 and Pennsylvania with 106. With the exception of Vermont, nesting pairs were counted in every New England state, including 65 in New Jersey, 25 in Massachusetts, 15 in Connecticut and 12 in New Hampshire.
Robbins’ cinquefoil. This yellow-flowered, rose-like perennial has long made its only home on the inhospitable, alpine slopes of Franconia Ridge and Mt. Washington in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It is one of a small collection of plants that require the high winds and low temperatures of extremely exposed, barren habitat. The beginning of what almost turned out to be the plant’s end came in 1793, when Able Crawford homesteaded in the area and began development of the mountain’s first trails, hotels and taverns. Virtually all of the businesses eventually failed, but the main trail — considered the longest continually used hiking path in the United States — remained, eventually becoming part of the Appalachian Trail. The Robbins’ cinquefoil population had dropped to about 1,800 in 1973 — just a quarter of its size 40 years earlier. When the species was placed on the endangered species list in 1980, only two populations were known, and by 1983 it had declined to 1,547 plants. The trail was relocated, and the New England Wildlife Flower Society began propagating and reintroducing plants. By 1999 the total population had increased to 4,575, and three years later, after three of four populations were considered viable, it was declared recovered and removed from the endangered species list.

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