Study: 60% of Species Recovery Plans Identify Global Warming as Extinction Threat

For Immediate Release


Kierán Suckling, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 275-5960
Dr. Tony Povilitis, Life Net Nature, (406) 600-4803

Study: 60% of Species Recovery Plans Identify Global Warming as Extinction Threat

But Plans Remain Inconsistent, Hindered by Lack of Federal Guidance

WASHINGTON - A scientific review of federal endangered species recovery plans finds that
scientists are increasingly identifying global warming as an extinction
threat but government agencies have yet to respond with any national
strategy. The lack of recovery plan guidance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service has led to inconsistent efforts to save species that scientists say
are most threatened by global warming.

recently published study was co-authored by Dr. Tony Povilitis, president
of Life Net Nature, and Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center
for Biological Diversity. It appeared in the peer-reviewed science journal Conservation Biology. The study
examined all 1,209 federal endangered species recovery plans issued between
1975 and 2008 to determine how well they address the threat of climate

warming is the greatest overarching threat to endangered species, but until
very recently, it was rarely addressed in federal recovery plans,"
Povilitis said. "Scientists are rapidly closing the gap, but are
sorely lacking in guidance from the federal government."

study concludes that urgent action is needed before it's too late for
recovery efforts to be successful. "Levels of atmospheric
heat-trapping gases must be reduced soon to avoid substantially higher risk
of species extinction," the authors wrote.

review found that fewer than 5 percent of recovery plans written prior to
2005 mentioned global warming. Since then (from 2005 to 2008), the threat
has been included in 60 percent of recovery plans.

teams have moved swiftly to incorporate global warming into these recovery
plans, but good science isn't enough. We need good policy,"
said Suckling. "Without it, scientific teams are forced to create
their own policies on the fly, species by species, every time they write a
recovery plan."


study, "Addressing Climate Change Threats to Endangered Species in
U.S. Recovery Plans," made the following findings:

  • No recovery plan issued
    between 1975 and 1989 addressed global warming.
  • The first to do so was the
    1990 West Virginia
    northern flying squirrel plan.
  • Fewer than 5 percent of
    plans completed per year addressed global warming between 1993 and
    2000, but this number increased to 18 percent between 2001 and 2004,
    and to 59 percent between 2005 and 2008 (see fig. 1).

1. Percent of recovery plans addressing climate change


Figure 1


progress has been rapid in the past five years, the historic failure to
address global warming means that only 10 percent of all recovery plans
(=124) address global warming.

plans discuss the urgency of addressing climate change in stronger terms
than the 2006 plan to recover 21 taxa of forest birds in Hawaii.

to stop global climate change" is a priority action item in the plan.
It continues: "Global warming and local climate change are a serious
threat to listed species in Hawaii primarily because of the potential for
movement of disease carrying mosquitoes into higher elevation avian refugia
currently free of mosquito breeding sites. This work will require
cooperation by appropriate agencies and entities to develop agreements and
technologies needed to slow greenhouse gas emissions, a significant factor
contributing to global climate change."

have clearly identified the threat of climate change in other
species' recovery plans:

  • "Climate change poses
    a high threat to the conservation and recovery" of Atlantic
    salmon in the Gulf
    of Maine, the
    salmon's plan says. "Any prolonged or significant warming
    of Maine's climate would
    probably make the survival of Atlantic salmon in Maine more difficult."
  • The plan for Hawaiian monk
    seals says, "While some habitat loss . . .  has already
    been observed, sea level rise over the longer term may threaten a
    large portion of the resting and pupping habitat."
  • For the Quino checkerspot
    butterfly, the plan says, "Evidence of local climate change and
    a corresponding change in the Quino checkerspot butterfly's range-wide
    distribution supports the conclusion that climate change is a
    substantial threat to the species' survival in the foreseeable
    future." It adds that climate shifts "are likely to affect
    not only all aspects of the Quino checkerspot butterfly recovery
    strategy in the foreseeable future, but also the future of every other
    native species in Southern California."
  • The plan for the desert
    tortoise says, "There is now sufficient evidence that recent
    climatic changes have affected a broad range of organisms with diverse
    geographical distributions." Warming temperatures and changing
    precipitation patterns could shift distribution of the tortoise,
    "thereby reducing the viability of lands currently identified as
    ‘refuges' or critical habitat for the species."

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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