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For Immediate Release, May 17, 2012

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495

Study: 90 Percent of Endangered Species Recovering on Time

California’s Condors, Sea Otters, Peninsular Bighorn Sheep 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 California, 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 California’s southern sea otters, California condors, Peninsular bighorn sheep and California least terns. 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 California’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 California’s signature species, from critically endangered California condors to Peninsular bighorn sheep, 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

California Highlights

Peninsular bighorn sheep. Restricted to east-facing, lower-elevation slopes of the Peninsular Ranges in Southern California, this unique population of bighorn sheep has faced an ever-increasing number of challenges in recent years, including loss of habitat to agriculture and housing development, predation by mountain lions, diseases contracted from domestic sheep, fire suppression and spread of exotic plants such as tamarisk. Two years after its population plummeted to 276 in 1996, it was listed as endangered. But by 2010 the population had more than tripled, to 981.
California condor. With a wingspan of almost 10 feet, California condors are one of the world’s most striking flying birds. Decimated by DDT, lead poisoning, shooting and collection, the U.S. population dwindled to just 40; it was listed as endangered in 1967. By 1985, their numbers had dropped to just nine; two years later all remaining birds were taken into a captive-breeding program. By 2011, the population had grown to 396 birds ranging across three wild populations, from the mountains north of the Los Angeles basin and the Big Sur area of the central California coast to the Grand Canyon area of Arizona.
California least tern. The decline of these small seabirds that like to fish for anchovies and smelt in the shallow coastal waters of central and Southern California began in the late 19th century, due to the desirability of their feathers for women's hats. In the decades after the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1916 ended that threat, populations again began to plummet as habitat was wiped out by development and recreational pressures. By the 1940s, terns were extirpated from most beaches of Orange and Los Angeles counties and were considered sparse elsewhere. When listed as endangered in 1970, just 225 nesting tern pairs were recorded in California. Protection of nest beaches from development and disturbance, and active predator-control programs, allowed the species to steadily increase to about 7,100 pairs in California in 2004. In 2006 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommended downlisting of the California least tern. In 2010 a population of 6,568 was recorded.

Mohave tui chub. These 6-inch-long, brassy-brown fish have inhabited the Mohave River basin since the Pleistocene epoch more than 11,700 years ago. That they were saved from the edge of extinction in 1970, when they were listed as endangered, is a testament to the protection provided by the Endangered Species Act, and decades of hard work by scientists, government agencies, and a group of visionary high-school students who rallied a town to help save the river’s only native fish. The introduction of nonnative species combined with increased flooding, pollution, water withdrawals and habitat degradation had extirpated Mohave tui chub from the main-stem river by 1970, when the population was estimated at no more than 2,000 fish. A 2004 National Park Service workshop on the fish inspired two high-school students to initiate a project resulting in the rehabilitation of two Mojave River drainage areas by students, Boy Scouts and community members. By 2011 the two ponds contained 1,560 fish. The total population of the Mohave tui chub in 2012 was 8,500 fish in five populations.

San Clemente loggerhead shrike. The small, black-masked bird that uses its hooked beak to kill insects, mice, lizards and birds is endemic to San Clemente Island off the coast of Southern California. Beginning in the late 1880s, its habitat was degraded by sheep, pigs, mule deer and goats, resulting in the decline of the shrike population to about 20 birds in the early 1900s. By 1977, when the species was listed, the number of shrikes had increased to about 50. The shrike’s habitat was improved by the U.S. Navy, which took control of the island in 1934 and by 1993 had removed all the hooved mammals, allowing native shrubs and trees to begin the process of vegetation recovery that is expected to support nesting by the birds. But due in part to nonnative predators, such as cats and black rats, the shrike’s numbers declined to as few as 14 birds by 1996. Between 1999 and 2005, 255 captive-reared shrikes were released into the wild. Combined with control of shrike predators and habitat protection, the reintroduction program steadily increased the population to a minimum of 185 breeding birds in 2009.
Southern sea otter. Found in the shallow coastal waters of central and Southern California, Southern sea otters were abundant through most of the 19th century. But by 1914 the fur trade had reduced the population to 50 animals, resulting in highly fragmented populations that verged on extinction. After being placed on the endangered species list in 1977, the otter population increased to 2,735 by 2005. The population has remained relatively stable since then, with a count of 2,719 in 2010. The otters continue to face many environmental obstacles, including disease, reduction in food resources in parts of their range, pollution and low genetic diversity.

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