Bureaucrats Recovered Only 3 Percent Of Endangered Species Under 50 Years Of Endangered Species Act
Australian cape fur seals playing as two divers watch, Montague Island, NSW, Australia.
by wildestanimal via Getty Images

Over the last 50 years, federal bureaucrats have managed to recover only three percent of endangered species, despite the expansive authority, powers, and funding granted to them by the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

According to a new report from the conservation nonprofit Property & Environment Research Center (PERC), the lead agencies implementing the ESA, NOAA Fisheries and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), recovered only 57 out of the 1,732 domestic endangered species: or, 3.3%.

The success rate declined further when PERC reviewed recovery data for all listed species in addition to domestic: only 71 out of 2,378 endangered species under that classification recovered, or 2.6%.

FWS projected to recover — or, delist — 300 species by this year. Only 13 recovered according to FWS projections, while 44 had no recovery rate predicted: a 4% accuracy rate.

“This low recovery rate has raised questions about the act’s ability to motivate the actions needed to recover species to the point that they no longer need the law’s protections,” stated PERC.

The 3% success rate has cost American taxpayers billions. 2023 appropriations for EWA efforts totaled over $167.9 million alone. (All searchable budgets dating back to 1983 located here). That’s not including the pervasive “sue and settle” problem: in 2017, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported 141 lawsuits concerning missed ESA deadlines on issuing findings to list potential endangered species.

The House Committee on Natural Resources reported in 2018 that attorneys fees have ranged over $2 million in those lawsuits, with 10 environmental advocacy groups accounting for 80% of the cases.

The ESA — passed with bipartisan support in 1973, three years after the first Earth Day celebration — allows the federal government to issue protective measures for threatened and endangered fish, wildlife, and plants, such as preventing development of major public services like dams and pipelines, limit private property owners from using their land freely, and imposing punishments of hefty fines and imprisonment.

A PERC spokesperson told The Daily Wire in an email that the current recovery measures have proven burdensome and ineffective.


“The Endangered Species Act should be guided by what’s best for helping species recover, and the poor recovery rate tells us that it’s falling short of its own goals,” said PERC. “As a former Fish and Wildlife Service administrator once lamented, ‘The incentives are wrong here. If I have a rare metal on my property, its value goes up. But if a rare bird occupies the land, its value disappears.’ Addressing that disconnect may help more species recover and thrive.”

PERC added that two-thirds of endangered species are located on private lands: a fact that could be the key to far better recovery rates.

“Improving the incentives for private landowners to restore habitat and perform proactive recovery efforts is important for recovery outcomes, and something we will explore further in a future report,” said PERC.

PERC’s report also observed that 287 species have been on the endangered species list for years, even decades, past their projected recovery dates. PERC estimated that it would take FWS another 70 years to recover those 287 species based on the current recovery rate: about four species per year over the last decade.

This recent analysis of FWS data counters the FWS press release issued in February characterizing the agency’s ESA efforts as a success. The FWS credited itself for preventing extinction of 99% of listed endangered species: one aspect of the ESA’s two-fold purpose. However, the FWS neglected to disclose the data concerning the other half of its two-fold purpose: its recovery rates.

As part of extinction prevention and recovery, the ESA directs FWS to implement recovery plans. PERC discovered that FWS made “little progress” on its recovery plans. Only six species had 75% or more of actions either fully or partially completed within their recovery plans. 1,025 species had less than 25% of actions either fully or partially completed within their recovery plans.

The lack of recovery plan progress doesn’t correspond with how long a species has been listed as endangered. In fact, PERC found that more than 90% of species listed as endangered for 30 or more years had either fully or partially completed less than 25% of recovery objectives: an average of 10% completion.

It appears the FWS recovery plans don’t translate to recovery rates. The 3% of recovered species, on average, had about 28% of their recovery plan objectives completed when they recovered.

“This suggests that, in addition to the Fish and Wildlife Service making little progress on the actions it has identified in recovery plans, those actions may not capture what is most important for effective species recovery,” stated PERC. “It may also imply that species are often recovering for reasons unrelated to the agency’s recovery efforts.”

The PERC report comes out several weeks after the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries held an oversight hearing on the ESA. The chairman, Arkansas Republican Rep. Bruce Westerman, declared that the ESA was in severe need of reform due to abuses that resulted in growth of bureaucratic power — especially under the Biden administration. The committee launched an ESA working group to study the act and propose reforms.

“This continues to this day under the Biden administration, which has misused the ESA and has stifled everything from forest management to future energy production through burdensome ESA regulations,” said Westerman.

PERC’s report includes a dashboard detailing the recovery data of all endangered species.

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