Study: Endangered Species Protection Taking Six Times Longer Than Law Allows

For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 
Contact: 

Dr. Emily Puckett, emily.e.puckett@gmail.com
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, ngreenwald@biologicaldiversity.org
Dr. Dylan C. Kesler, keslerd@mac.com

Study: Endangered Species Protection Taking Six Times Longer Than Law Allows

Delays Raise Risk of Extinction, Lawsuits Hasten Process for Protections

WASHINGTON - A new study in the international scientific journal Biological Conservation finds that over the past 40 years, imperiled species have waited more than 12 years on average to receive protection under the Endangered Species Act, despite the fact that under the law, the process is supposed to take no more than two years. The study also found that vertebrate species move through the process faster than invertebrates or plants and that lawsuits filed by conservation groups and other interested parties targeted species stuck in the process and hastened protection.    

“Our study found delays and biases in the process for protecting species under the Endangered Species Act that are of grave concern,” said Dr. Emily Puckett, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral associate at Fordham University. “Lack of funding and the shifting policies and priorities of different presidential administrations delay badly needed protections for endangered wildlife.”

The study analyzed the listing process for 1,338 species protected between 1973 and 2014 to determine how budget constraints, species taxonomy, lawsuits, whether protection was initiated by a petition from an outside party or governmental biologists, and presidential policy choices affected the length of time it took for each species to receive protection. It found that increased funding and lawsuits accelerated protection of species, but that policy choices and taxonomy had mixed impacts on the time required to gain protection. Presidential administration, in particular, had a major impact on listing of species, with only 62 species listed under the second Bush administration compared to 268 under the Obama administration and 522 under the Clinton administration. Vertebrates such as mammals and birds on average received protection in roughly half the time it took for plants and invertebrates, such as beetles and mussels, to receive protection. Delay in protection of species has real consequences, with at least 42 species having gone extinct waiting for protection. We will never again see these plants and animals.   

“When it comes to saving endangered species, every year of delayed protections is a year that these animals and plants move closer to extinction,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity and one of the authors of the study. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been taking six times longer than allowed by law. As shown by this study, dozens of species would have had to wait even longer were it not for petitions and lawsuits by concerned citizens.”

The study refutes “unsupported assertions that litigation draws resources away from species conservation,” concluding that “active public involvement through petitions and litigation accelerated species through the listing process.” 

The study recommends increased funding and better partnerships with nongovernmental organizations interested in biodiversity protection to address lengthy delays in protection. 

“The Endangered Species Act is an incredibly powerful tool for protecting species, but it only works once species are listed as threatened or endangered,” said Dr. Dylan Kesler, another coauthor of the study and a research associate with The Institute for Bird Populations. “Our study highlights the need to greatly accelerate listing of endangered plants and animals, and the benefits that come from working with nongovernmental organizations.”

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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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