The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kierán Suckling, (520) 275-5960

Endangered Species Act 99 Percent Effective at Saving Imperiled Species

House Republicans Offer Empty Rhetoric Attacking Act


Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, will testify before the U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday at a hearing called "The Endangered Species Act: How Litigation is Costing Jobs and Impeding True Recovery Efforts." In his written testimony, Suckling notes that the Endangered Species Act is, by any measure, a success: 99.9 percent of species protected by the Act have been kept from extinction and, where measured, 93 percent of protected species are moving toward recovery.

"The Endangered Species Act is the most successful law ever enacted to save wildlife and plants from extinction," said Suckling. "The Act saved the bald eagle, peregrine falcon, American alligator and scores of others and is in the process of saving the polar bear, Miami blue butterfly and more than a thousand other species."

Critics of the Endangered Species Act complain that the law is failing because only 1 percent of endangered species have recovered and been removed from the list. But these critics fail to explain why they think more species should have recovered by now. There are currently 1,396 species protected under the Endangered Species Act. On average, they have been on the list 21 years. Their federal recovery plans, however, expect that on average they will require 42 years from listing to be recovered.

"Complaining that a species did not recover decades faster than what scientists said is like declaring an antibiotic to be a failure because it did not cure an infection on the first day of a 10-day course," Suckling said.

In fact, hundreds of listed species have strong recovery trends but, as per their federal recovery plans, will not reach full recovery for several decades. Their progress is indicative of the Endangered Species Act's effectiveness despite the fact they are not yet recovered. Among species with strong recovery trends are the:

  • Whooping crane, which has grown from 54 birds in 1967 to 599 in 2011;
  • Shortnose sturgeon, which has increased from 12,669 fish in 1979 to 56,708 in 1994-1996;
  • Hawaiian goose, which has increased from 300 birds in 1980 to 1,744 in 2006;
  • Florida panther, which has increased from 30 to 40 individuals in the 1980s to 87 in 2003 and 130 in 2010;
  • Utah prairie dog, whose numbers increased from 3,300 in 1973 to 11,296 in 2010.

Yet House Republicans continue to attack the Endangered Species Act, including complaints over the cost of litigation that has helped to ensure that imperiled species and their habitat are protected as the law requires. In fact, in a Sept. 11, 2011 letter to the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service disclosed that in 2010 it spent $1.24 million to "manage, coordinate, track, and support ESA litigation" brought by environmental and industry groups. This amounts to one half of 1 percent of the endangered-species budget, which was more than $275 million in 2010. According to the letter, the amount the Service spent on litigation has remained relatively constant over the past 10 years, meaning 2010 was a typical year in terms of the very small percentage of the endangered species budget spent managing litigation.

"Although litigation has played an important role in making sure declining species get the help they desperately need, it certainly isn't breaking the bank," Suckling said. "The irony of the House leadership's attack on environmental groups is that industry lawyers receive millions of dollars under these same enforcement powers, and these lawsuits almost always seek to curtail protection for plants and animals, not enhance it."

A 2006 review found that 80 percent of all active litigation over critical habitat in 2005 was filed by industry groups. Similarly, the U.S. Government Accountability Office this year found that industry groups filed 48 percent of lawsuits against the Environmental Protection Agency while environmental groups filed 30 percent.

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.

(520) 623-5252