For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 

Jared Saylor, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-3255,

Report: Endangered Species Act Recovery Plans Missing, Delayed and Old

Defenders of Wildlife suggests improvements to the recovery planning process

WASHINGTON - Today, Defenders of Wildlife’s Center for Conservation Innovation has published a paper in the journal Conservation Letters on the Endangered Species Act (ESA), entitled“Missing, delayed, and old: The status of ESA recovery plans.” The study illustrates the consequences of the long-term under-funding of the ESA by Congress. Contrary to the rhetoric of anti-wildlife politicians and their corporate backers, the Endangered Species Act is not broken – it is being starved of the resources needed to effectively save species from extinction.

Please join our experts for an in-depth discussion of this new study today at 11:00 a.m. Eastern. Call 866-831-8713; Passcode: DEFENDERS

Using data from all U.S. domestic and transboundary ESA-listed species, the research analyzed the completeness, timeliness, age, and other variation among ESA recovery plans over the past 40 years. Among eligible listed species, Defenders of Wildlife found that nearly 25 percent lack final recovery plans; half of plans have taken more than five years to finalize after listing; half of recovery plans are more than 20 years old; and there is significant variation in planning between agencies, and among regions and taxonomic groups.

Jamie Rappaport Clark, President and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, issued this statement:  


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“The Endangered Species Act is being starved of the funding and resources needed to save wildlife from extinction. Nearly one-fourth of eligible listed species have no plan for recovery and more than half of existing recovery plans are more than 20 years old.

“This report should be a wake-up call to Congress to fully fund endangered wildlife recovery rather than falsely claim that the Act is broken. The Act has had decades of success in saving wildlife from extinction, but it needs funding and resources to develop timely, scientifically sound recovery plans that protect wildlife and their habitat.


“Our nation and our planet are facing an extinction crisis that could result in the loss of half of all species in as little as 33 years. With this emerging crisis at hand, Congress should be working to fund this important law, not weaken it.”

Jacob Malcom, Director of the Center for Conservation Innovation of Defenders of Wildlife, issued this statement:

“Our research found that we are failing to protect imperiled wildlife by allowing endangered and threatened wildlife to go without recovery plans, and allowing plans to be delayed or to go out of date. Less than one-fifth of listed species received a recovery plan within 2.5 years of listing, and nearly one-fifth required planning time of ten years or more.


“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service should update their recovery planning policies to allow early and continuous engagement of the public, to make draft recovery plans available within 1.5 years of listing, and to post the interim recovery plans online as soon as possible. And most of all, the Services should seek the funding they need to plan for and take the action necessary to recover imperiled species.”




See our infographic on the number of ESA-listed species and species with recovery plans, through the yearshere.


Additional Findings from the Report


  • Recovery plans have evolved significantly over the years.Recovery plans from the 1980s are rarely more than several dozen pages in length while recent plans are more substantial.
  • Since 2008, about 350 species have been listed as threatened or endangered, new plans have been published, and other plans have been updated. Now, with a new batch of species likely to be listed in the coming decade (FWS, 2017), there is a need to understand and, as necessary, improve the status of ESA recovery planning.
  • Of the 1,548-species eligible for final recovery plans, we found 1,038 species had a final plan as of January 2018 and 131 had a revised plan (n = 604 official plans), leaving 379 species (24.5% of eligible species) without official recovery plans. Of the species lacking an official plan, 98 (6.3%) had a draft recovery plan or a recovery outline, leaving 280 species (18.1%) without any publicly available recovery guidance.
  • Only 18.6% of species received a plan within 2.5 years of listing and 18.4% required ≥10 years. Species in multispecies plans had a time-to-plan approximately 1.4 years shorter than those in single-species plans (median 4.7 vs. 6.1 years), but multispecies plans were found in the past to have significant limitations.
  • The age distribution of current recovery plans is highly variable, with a median recovery plan age of 22.8 years. As of January 2018, 10% of species have plans that are less than 10 years old, and 10% of species have plans that are greater than 31.7 years old.

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Defenders of Wildlife is a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.

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