Bookmark and Share

More press releases

For Immediate Release, May 17, 2012

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495

Study: 90 Percent of Endangered Species Recovering on Time

Rocky Mountains’ Wolves, Grizzlies, Falcons, Black-footed Ferrets 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 Rocky Mountains, 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 grizzly bears, gray wolves, black-footed ferrets and American peregrine falcons. 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 Rocky Mountains are 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 Rocky Mountains’ signature species, from grizzly bears to gray wolves to peregrine falcons, 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

Rocky Mountain Highlights

Grizzly bear. Before being extirpated from 95 percent of their continental U.S. range between 1850 and 1920, about 50,000 grizzlies lived in the lower 48 states. By the time grizzlies were listed as a threatened species in 1975, fewer than 1,000 remained in only about 2 percent of the species’ historic range. Of these, no more than 300 survived in the Yellowstone recovery area centered on Yellowstone National Park. With protection, the population grew to more than 580 bears in 2005. In 2007 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared that the Yellowstone grizzlies were a distinct, fully recovered population segment and removed them from the endangered species list. Although many hailed the recovery of the bear’s numbers, many conservation groups and scientists opposed the decision, asserting the population was too small to be viable in the long term and habitat and hunting threats would not be adequately addressed without Endangered Species Act protection. In response to a court order, the Yellowstone population was relisted as threatened in 2010.
Black-footed ferret. This 2-foot-long, black-masked relative of the mink and otter once occurred in central grasslands and basins from southern Canada to Texas but is now one of the most endangered mammals in North America. In the early 1900s, the United States was likely home to more than 5 million ferrets. But ferrets, which hunt prairie dogs for food and live in their burrows, were almost wiped out early in the 20th century after agricultural development and rodent poisons devastated prairie dog populations. Thirteen years after they were listed as endangered in 1967, the last captive ferret died, and the animals were thought to be extinct in North America. Then in 1981 a small relic population was discovered in a Wyoming prairie dog colony. Between 1991 and 1999, about 1,200 ferrets from that population were released in Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, Arizona and along the Utah/Colorado border. At least two of those reintroduced populations are established and no longer require releases of captive-raised ferrets. Biologists estimate there are now a total of about 700 black-footed ferrets living in the wild.
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 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.  The Rocky Mountain region has seen some of the strongest recovery trends, with nesting pairs increasing from fewer than 30 in the early 1970s to more than 700 by 2007 — 325 in Montana, 216 in Idaho, 105 in Wyoming and 65 in Colorado.
American peregrine falcon The American peregrine falcon, which can fly up to 200 mph during hunting dives, occurs throughout much of North America, from the subarctic boreal forests of Alaska and Canada south to Mexico. It is estimated that prior to the 1940s, there were approximately 3,875 nesting pairs of peregrines in North America. From the 1940s through the 1960s, however, the population of the peregrine, and many other raptors, crashed, largely due to unregulated use of DDT, and chemically similar pesticides. By 1975, there were only 324 known nesting pairs in the U.S. In 1970, the American peregrine was listed as endangered, contributing to a ban on the use of the pesticide DDT in 1972. In addition, in the eastern United States, efforts were made to reestablish peregrine falcons by releasing offspring from a variety of wild stocks that were held in captivity by falconers. Since 1974, more than 6,000 falcons have been released in North America. By 1998, the total known breeding population of peregrine falcons was 1,650 pairs in the United States and Canada, far exceeding the recovery goal of 456 pairs. In 1999 the species was delisted. Monitoring of peregrine populations has continued and the estimated North American population was 3,005 pairs as of 2006.
Gray wolf, Northern Rocky Mountains. Between the late 19th century and 1967, when wolves were listed as endangered, bounty hunting wiped out most of the wolf population in the lower 48 states, leaving populations in only northeastern Minnesota and Isle Royal, Mich. Successful recolonization of the Rocky Mountain region began in the early 1980s, and wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and Idaho in the mid-1990s. In 2009 the total population of wolves in the northern Rockies was about 1,679, up from 1,545 in 2007 and 1,300 in 2006. The population then began expanding beyond the Rockies; wolves started returning to Oregon in 1999, and the first pack, the Imnaha, was established in 2008. There are now four confirmed packs in eastern Oregon and at least 29 wolves. The first reliable reports of wolves returning to Washington came in 2005; today the state has five packs in the central and eastern portions of the state, including three breeding pairs and at least 27 individuals. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisted the northern Rockies gray wolf in 2008, but the decision was overturned after conservationists successfully argued that the recovery plan goal was outdated and insufficient to remove the threat of extinction. In 2011, for the first time in the history of the Endangered Species Act, Congress overruled the courts and ordered the delisting of northern Rockies gray wolves, along with those in parts of Oregon, Washington and Utah. Wolf populations in Idaho and Montana are now subject to aggressive hunting and trapping seasons designed to severely reduce populations.

Go back