Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

For immediate release: May 17, 2005


Latest Anti-Endangered Species Act Report by Pombo is Erroneous, Misleading

Center for Biological Diversity, Kieran Suckling (520) 275-5960
Endangered Species Coalition, Liz Godfrey (505) 438-4245
Earthjustice, Susan Holmes 202) 667-4500

Today Congressman Richard Pombo (D-CA) issued an inaccurate, poorly researched report entitled Implementation of the Endangered Species Act of 1973. A rebuttal of the report’s key points is presented below.

“This report is all politics and no science,” said Kieran Suckling, Policy Director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Instead recycling old gibberish, Pombo should read the scientific research which shows that the Endangered Species Act works.”

“The mischaracterizations in this report are further proof that developers, and the politicians they give money to, are trying to weaken the Endangered Species Act, the law that prevented the extinction of the American Bald Eagle," said Liz Godfrey, Program Director for the Endangered Species Coalition. "They are manipulating science to fit their political agenda, and working to remove the checks and balances that help protect people from special interests."

“The Endangered Species Act is a proven safety net for America’s imperiled plants and animals,” said Susan Holmes of Earthjustice. “This report is a recipe for undoing 30 years of progress and driving scores of species to extinction.”

Congressman Pombo has a reputation of attacking and misrepresenting the Endangered Species Act. In the past he was forced to publicly withdraw a claim that his family ranch had been rendered worthless because it was designated as critical habitat for the San Joaquin kit fox. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pointed out that the species has no critical habitat. The Congressman’s claim that the Endangered Species Act caused flooding and loss of human life in California in 1997 was rebutted by the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of California. Earlier this month the Congressman was charged with baldly misrepresenting the results of an Endangered Species Act review by the Government Accountability Office.

Errors and Misrepresentations in the Report

The report’s main contention is that the Endangered Species Act has a 99% failure rate because only 13 species have fully recovered and been delisted. This recycled soundbite is also the primary media message of a national network of anti-Endangered Species Act forces. As shown below, however, it is nonsensical.

1) Scientists Say Recovery Will Take 30-50 Years on Average; Often Over 100 Years

Over 3,000 scientists have reviewed that status of nearly every endangered species and concluded that recovery could not possibly be achieved within the 15.5 years they have averaged on the endangered list.

1,082 species have official federal recovery plan created by university, industry, and federal scientists. The plans establish recovery goals, implementation steps and estimated time to recovery. A systematic review of all those plans shows that the average length of time projected for recovery is 30-50 years. Many species will require over 100 years:

Right whale. The decline of the North Atlantic Right Whale began in the 10th century. By 1700 it was too rare to be of importance to whales, and in 1967 it was placed on the endangered species. The 1991 federal recovery plan states: “Given the small size of the North Atlantic population downlisting to threatened may take 150 years even in good conditions (p. 14).” Time to full recovery is not calculated, but will certainly take over 200 years. This is short amount of time in comparison to the 1,000 years of overhunting that make it endangered.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker. This species suffered habitat loss to logging for 300 years before being placed on the endangered list in 1970. Despite the fact that the woodpeckers is recovering and is widely regarded as a successful example of the Endangered Species Act, the 2003 federal recovery plan estimates that hard work will allow the species to be downlisted to threatened status in 2050 and fully recovered by 2075. That is total of 105 years from listing to recovery. That length of time is necessary because forest restoration is a long, slow process.

Whooping Crane. Several hundred years of habitat destruction pushed the Whooping Crane to the brink of extinction by the 1970s. In 1950 there were just 50 animals left. It was placed on the endangered list in 1970 and since made great progress toward recovery with over 315 cranes living today in three wild sites and seven breeding facilities. Nonetheless, the draft 2005 recovery plan states: “The estimated time to achieve downlisting is the year 2035. At current rates of reintroduction it takes over 10 years to build a population of more than 100 individuals. These individuals must then reach breeding age (3-5 years) and produce enough young to become self-sustaining for a decade to meet criteria for downlisting. This is expected to take a minimum of 32 years." (xiv). This is 62 years from the date of listing. Time to full recover and delisting is not estimated but will surely require at least 50 years from today.

Mt. Graham Red Squirrel. This squirrel lives on a single mountain top in southern Arizona. It was placed on the endangered species list in 1987 because development, logging, and fire were destroying its habitat. The 1993 federal recovery plan states: “At least 10 years will be needed to stabilize the Mt. Graham red squirrel population and at least 100 to 300 years will be needed to restore Mt. Graham red squirrel habitat." (iv).

2) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Report Show Most Species Are Stable or Improving When Protected for at Least Six Years

Claiming to summarize a 2004 report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Pombo report states that 60% of endangered species are uncertain or declining, 30% are stable, and only 6% are improving. This is voodoo statistics. It is statistical nonsense to lump known trends in with unknown trends. It is also nonsensical to lump together species which only been on the endangered list for six months and species which has been on the list for 15 years. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife report actually shows that 68% of species with a known trend which have been listed for at least six years are stable or improving. Just 32% are declining.

Of those species with a known trend, 68% are stable or improving and just 32% are declining.

3) Peer-Reviewed Scientific Studies Show that the Endangered Species Act Works

In April 2005, BioScience, a peer-review scientific journal published a study entitled “The Effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act: A Quantitative Analysis”. The study examined 1,095 species whose status was assessed multiple times by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service between 1989 and 2002. It found that:

Endangered Species Improve Over Time. The longer species were protected under the endangered species, the more likely they were to be improving and the less likely they were to be declining.

Critical Habitat Helps Recovery. Species with critical habitat for at least two years were twice as likely to be improving as species without critical habitat.

Recovery Plans Help Recovery. Species with dedicated recovery plan were more likely to be improving and less likely to be declining than species without recovery plans. Only 81% of species currently have recovery plans.

The report is available at:


more press releases. . .

Go back