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For Immediate Release, May 17, 2012

Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495

Study: 90 Percent of Endangered Species Recovering on Time

Whooping Cranes, Gray Bats, Piping Plovers Among Central U.S. 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 central United States, 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 whooping cranes, gray bats, bald eagles and Northern Great Plains piping plovers. 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,” 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 America’s signature species, from whooping cranes to gray bats, 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

Central U.S. Highlights

Gray bat. Unlike many other bat species, the gray bat typically lives in caves year-round. Although found in as many as 15 states, about 95 percent of hibernating gray bats are found in just eight caves: two in Tennessee, three in Missouri and one each in Kentucky, Alabama and Arkansas. The gray bat was listed in 1976 and hit a population low of 1.5 million in 1992. With Endangered Species Act protection, the population rebounded to nearly 3.4 million in 2006 and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its intent to downlist the bat to “threatened.” But due to the threat of white-nose syndrome, a deadly disease that has that has killed millions of bats and evolved into the worst wildlife epidemic in U.S. history, the Service determined in 2009 that the bat should keep its endangered listing.
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 was already extirpated or at low numbers in most states by the 1940s when DDT and other organochlorides became widely used and came close to driving it to extinction. In 1967, the bald eagle was listed as endangered in the lower 48 states. In 1970, the eagle was joined on the list by the American peregrine falcon, Arctic peregrine falcon and brown pelican. The listing of these large, charismatic birds rallied the nation to ban the production and sale of DDT in 1972. Due to the 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 1984, 13 states lacked nesting eagles. By 1998, three years after it was downlisted from endangered to threatened, the bird was absent from only two. By 2006, it nested in all 48 states.  Nowhere was the return of the iconic raptor more noticeable than in the central region of the country, where, in an area reaching north from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska to the Dakotas, and east across Missouri, Iowa and Kansas, the eagle had largely been extirpated or reduced to a handful of nesting pairs. By 2007, more than 600 pairs of bald eagles were nesting in those states, with more than 100 in Oklahoma and Nebraska, another 100-plus in Arkansas and Kansas, 81 in the Dakotas, 150 in Missouri and 210 in Iowa.
Northern Great Plains piping plover. The energetic shorebirds’ populations plummeted in the 20th century with increased development and recreational uses of their shoreline nesting sites. And, over the years, even relatively remote nesting sites on inland lakes became increasingly damaged by dams and other water-control practices that unnaturally raised and lowered water levels during critical breeding seasons. They were listed as endangered in 1985. Despite some fluctuations, the population appears to be on the upswing. There were 2,023 adults and 891 breeding pairs in 1991. In 2006, there were 2,959 adults and 1,212 breeding pairs. The recovery goal set in 1988 called for the establishment of 1,300 pairs that remain stable for 15 years, including 650 pairs in North Dakota, 350 pairs in South Dakota, 465 pairs in Nebraska and 25 pairs in Minnesota. Thanks to volunteers working for years to track the birds’ population growth, we know the number of piping plover pairs in North Dakota has increased from around 300 pairs in 1986 to nearly 800 pairs in 2008. The number in South Dakota increased from around 100 pairs in 1986 to around 250 pairs in 2008. Nebraska has seen increases from around 100 in 1986 to around 400 in 2008.
Whooping crane. Iconic whooping cranes in flight, their long necks thrust forward and legs trailing behind, almost disappeared from North American skies after unregulated hunting and habitat destruction reduced their numbers from as many as 1,400 in the late 1800s to as few as 21 by 1938. By the time it was listed as endangered in 1967, the population of America’s tallest bird had dropped to just 48 wild and six captive birds. In 1978, critical habitat was designated in parts of Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas, primarily on federal and state wildlife-management lands. The bird whose habitat once stretched from the Arctic coast south to central Mexico, and from Utah east to New Jersey, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, now nests in the wild at only three locations: Wisconsin, Central Florida, and Wood Buffalo National Park and adjacent areas in Canada (a population that winters in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas). Due to intensive habitat management, nest protection, captive breeding and reintroductions, the population rose steadily to 513 birds in 2006, and 599 in 2011.
Gray wolf, western Great Lakes. After decades of eradication and bounty programs that continued as late as 1965, surviving wolf populations in Minnesota and Michigan had dwindled to several hundred animals. In 1978, only four years after it had become one of the first animals to be listed as endangered, federal managers proposed downlisting the wolves to “threatened” in Minnesota. By 2004, wolves had expanded their range in Minnesota and the population had grown to more than 3,000. In Wisconsin, where there were no breeding wolves from 1960 to 1975, the population increased to 425 by 2005. Michigan populations increased from 80 in 1995 to 435 by 2005. The total Great Lakes wolf population increased from fewer than 1,000 at the time of listing to approximately 4,013 in 2008. Great Lakes wolves were removed from the endangered species list in 2011.

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