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For Immediate Release, May 17, 2012

Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495

Study: 90 Percent of Endangered Species Recovering on Time

Brown Pelicans, Whooping Cranes, Sea Turtles Among Texas 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 Texas, 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 brown pelicans, whooping cranes, Kemp’s ridley sea turtles and Concho water snakes in Texas. 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 Texas 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 signature species in Texas, including Kemp’s ridley sea turtles and brown pelicans, 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

Texas Highlights

Concho water snake. These brown-banded, 3-foot-long snakes were once known to occur over almost 300 stream miles of the Colorado and Concho rivers in central Texas. By the time they were listed as endangered in 1986, reductions in water flow and other habitat degradation had reduced the range of these nonvenomous fish-eaters to fewer than 200 stream miles and isolated snake populations. In 2008 a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service memorandum of understanding ensured adequate water flows, habitat improvements and preserved connectivity between the snake’s three subpopulations. In 2011 the Service determined the snake’s 1993 recovery plan goals had been met and removed it from the endangered species list.
Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. At only 2 feet long, these nearly circular turtles are the world’s smallest sea turtle. Traditionally they have nested only in the Gulf of Mexico and are known for their unique group nesting habits. As late as 1947, more than 40,000 females nested in a single day on one beach in Mexico. The Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle had vanished from the United States as a breeding species by the 1950s, though it continued to forage in U.S. waters along the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic. Collection of turtle eggs, development of nesting beaches, commercial fisheries bycatch and oil extraction pushed the species to near extinction by the end of the 1960s, and in 1970 it was listed as endangered. In 1978, efforts began to reestablish a nesting colony at Padre Island National Seashore in Texas. Nest counts proceeded slowly at first, but reached about 200 in 2008 and 2009. The Mexico population declined from more than 40,000 nests in 1947 to 740 in 1985 before steadily climbing to at least 11,600 in 2006. The increase was facilitated by habitat protection, prohibition and education about egg collection, as well as a requirement that turtle excluder devices be used by U.S. and Mexican shrimp fishing fleets in the Gulf of Mexico.
Big Bend gambusia. Historically found only in the clear, spring-fed waters of what is today Big Bend National Park, this 2-inch-long fish was virtually extirpated in the 1950s by reduced spring flows and the introduction of nonnative western mosquitofish. During an unsuccessful 1956 effort to eradicate the mosquitofish, the Big Bend gambusia were relocated, with only three fish surviving the move to the University of Texas. Nonnative fish and a rare cold snap foiled several attempts over the next 20 years to help the gambusia thrive in their native area. In 1967 they were listed as endangered. In the following years improvements were made to an artificial refugia at the national park, and the fish thrived, reaching approximately 50,000 fish in 2005. The park’s chief biologist credits the Endangered Species Act with prompting the successful, systematic efforts to conserve the species.
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.
Brown pelican, western Gulf population. With their population decimated in the early 1900s, first by the millinery trade and then by fisherman who feared them as competitors, these graceful fliers, known for their dive-bombing fishing tactics, were already in trouble when DDT virtually wiped them out along the Gulf Coast. By 1961 the birds were extirpated in Louisiana, where they are the state bird, and fast approaching the same status in Texas. Listed as endangered in 1970, the pelicans slowly reestablished themselves, with eight nests in Texas that same year and 11 in Louisiana the following year. Although nests numbers in Louisiana fluctuate greatly due to hurricanes, at last available count, in 2007 there were 10,947. In Texas 6,136 nests were counted in 2008. (Pelicans roost and feed along coastal islands of Mississippi, but there are no known records of pelicans nesting in the state.) By 2009 the pelicans were deemed recovered and delisted.

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