PORTLAND, Ore. April 22, 2019— A study published today in the journal PeerJ shows the Endangered Species Act has saved roughly 99 percent of protected wildlife since its creation in 1973, demonstrating the law has been overwhelmingly successful.
“Congress passed the Endangered Species Act to stop more species like the Carolina parakeet and great auk from going extinct, and in the vast majority of cases, it has worked,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity and lead author of the study. “There can be no question that without the Endangered Species Act, we would have lost species like bald eagles, California condors, black-footed ferrets and many, many more.”
Relying on five-year status reviews by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other scientific data, the study identified and assessed the status of currently listed threatened or endangered species that may be extinct.
Of the more than 1,700 animals and plants protected under the Endangered Species Act, the authors found just four species that went extinct after receiving protection and another 22 that are possibly extinct. Another 71 are extinct or possibly extinct but were last seen before they were listed and protected, so the Endangered Species Act never had the chance to save them.
For comparison, the study found that a total of 291 species would have been expected to go extinct without the Endangered Species Act.
“From peregrine falcons to gray whales to grizzly bears, the Endangered Species Act has saved hundreds of species from extinction and deserves our support,” said Greenwald.
Of the 26 species where extinction happened after protection was granted, most had such small numbers by the time they were protected that recovery was highly unlikely. For example, only one green blossom pearly mussel was seen after listing, making it highly unlikely anything could have been done to save it.
The study, however, found that four species — the dusky seaside sparrow, Morro Bay kangaroo rat, Curtis’ pearlymussel and a Hawaiian plant called pamakani — had sufficient numbers at the time of listing to support recovery, and their loss was indeed a conservation failure.
One likely contributor to this failure is a chronic lack of funding for the Endangered Species Act. A separate 2016 study found that dedicated funding for endangered species is roughly 3 percent of what is needed.
“The Endangered Species Act works incredibly well for protecting and recovering species, but it would work a lot better with sufficient funding,” said Greenwald. “If lawmakers in Congress really wanted to help recover wildlife, they could simply increase funding for species conservation.”
Of the 97 species that are extinct or possibly extinct, including those that went extinct before they were protected, 64 are from the Hawaiian and Northern Mariana Islands, reflecting the vulnerability and uniqueness of the plants and animals found in the Pacific. The other hotspot of extinction was the rivers and wetlands of the southeastern United States with 18 extinctions, many of them mussels. Both regions continue to have large numbers of at-risk species and should be priorities for increased conservation funding.
The Trump administration will likely finalize a set of regulations weakening the Endangered Species Act in the coming weeks, making it harder to list species under the Act and reducing protections afforded to nearly all wildlife and plants in order to benefit industry interests.
“The Trump administration is putting the Endangered Species Act’s amazing track record of success on the chopping block just to reward its special-interest benefactors,” Greenwald said.