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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

Great Lakes' Piping Plovers, Kirtland’s Warblers, Wolves 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 Great Lakes region, 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 Great Lakes piping plovers, Lake Erie water snakes, gray wolves and Kirtland’s warblers. 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 Great Lakes region is 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 Great Lakes’ signature species, from gray wolves to tiny Kirtland’s warblers, 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

Great Lakes Highlights

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 they had became 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.
Lake Erie water snake This variously colored, 2- to 4-foot- long subspecies of the Northern water snake occurs primarily on the offshore islands of western Lake Erie in Ohio and Ontario, Canada, but also on a small portion of the U.S. mainland on the Catawba and Marblehead peninsulas of Ottawa County, Ohio. It was listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act in 1999 primarily due to population reduction caused by human persecution. After listing, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service undertook a successful outreach campaign that improved public attitudes toward the snakes and allowed the population to recover from 5,130 snakes in 2001 to 9,800 snakes in 2010. The 2003 federal recovery plan required a U.S. islands population of more than 5,555 adult snakes for a period of six or more consecutive years. The population goal has been met and surveys indicate that public perception of the snake has improved and threats have been largely abated. The species was determined to be recovered and delisted in 2011.
Kirtland's warbler Until 1996 all known nests of these small, yellow-chested songbirds were within one 60-mile stretch of Michigan. The population of the birds, which nest in grasses and shrubs in young, fire-maintained jack pine forests, peaked between 1885 and 1900. By 1951, however, the warbler had been reduced to 432 pairs due to fire suppression and nest parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds. Between 1957 and 1962, the U.S. Forest Service and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources created four warbler management areas within state and national forests. The population increased slightly to 502 pairs by 1961, but then declined to its lowest point of 201 pairs in 1971 and in 1973 it was listed as endangered. Over 30 years, beginning in the mid-1970s, some 180,000 acres of jack pine forest was designated for Kirtland's warbler management. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service initiated a cowbird control program that, on average, removes 4,000 cowbirds per year from Kirtland's warbler breeding areas. The number of territorial males remained at about 200 pairs through 1989, began to increase in 1990, and grew steadily to 1,805 in 2011. Nearly 1,700 of the 2007 territories were in Michigan; eight were in Wisconsin, two were in Ontario.
Great Lakes piping plover These shore birds known for their staccato sprints have long been a popular sight on the sand spits of glacially formed sand dunes along the Great Lakes shoreline where they nest. 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 and development. When the Great Lakes plover was listed as an endangered species in 1985, just 19 nesting pairs remained, all in Michigan. The population fluctuated between 12 and 19 pairs between 1985 and 1993, then increased steadily to 55 pairs in 2011. As the range expanded, plovers re-colonized Wisconsin in 1998 at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Lake Superior, after being absent since 1983. The largest nesting congregation is at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore, Mich., which typically supports about 25 percent of the population. The post-1993 increase was facilitated by aggressive management programs that protected nests from predators, nest areas from recreationists and beaches from development. There is also a small captive rearing program focused exclusively on raising chicks hatched from abandoned eggs. Michigan has attained 50 percent of its 100-pair breeding goal for four consecutive years. However, breeding in other Great Lakes states is limited to one to two pairs in Wisconsin.

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