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Endangered and Threatened Species Recovery Program

Recovery Policy


JPG-Weighing snake

The Act calls for the conservation of threatened and endangered species and of the ecosystems upon which they depend, ultimately, to recover listed species to levels where protection under the Act is no longer required. The first step in the recovery process is the collection of necessary biological information, the development of species-specific recovery goals, and the formulation of management needs in terms of their relative importance and timing for recovery. This information establishes the basis of a recovery plan, which serves as the blueprint for private, Federal, and State cooperation in the development and implementation of recovery actions. The recovery planning process provides for public participation to enhance coordination and acceptance, which are vital to species' survival and eventual recovery.

The second step in recovery of a species is implementation of recovery actions. Coordination among Federal, State, and local agencies, academic researchers, conservation organizations, private individuals, and major land users is perhaps the key ingredient for implementation of an effective recovery program. In its role as coordinator of the recovery process, the Service emphasizes cooperation and teamwork among all involved parties to achieve the common goal of species' recovery.

To promote efficiency, the Director of the Service has delegated responsibility for recovery of listed species to the Regional Directors. Each listed species is the responsibility of at least one Region, known as the lead Region. Decisions involving species that cross regional boundaries are coordinated by the lead Region among the other appropriate Regions. Regional Directors have the responsibility to determine if a recovery plan is needed, ensure that a recovery plan is developed as appropriate, and direct implementation of the recovery plan.

Recovery Planning

Section 4(f) of the Act, as amended, calls for the development and implementation of recovery plans for species of animals and plants listed as endangered or threatened unless such plans will not promote their conservation. Recovery planning provides several benefits when completed in a timely and thorough manner. By developing recovery plans with broad public involvement, many of those most affected by recovery actions will gain a better understanding of what it will take to fully recover a species. This can reduce and oftentimes eliminate foreseeable human use conflicts with listed species and their habitats. Recovery actions identified in the recovery plans can be recommended or required through the Act's section 7 consultation process. Thus, a recovery plan enables many land managers, both governmental and non-governmental, to plan future actions with more certainty.

To the maximum extent feasible, a recovery plan must identify management tasks, recommend research needs, and list other actions that may be necessary to achieve the plan's goal for the conservation and survival of the species. The plans must develop precise, measurable criteria to objectively determine when recovery has been achieved. Recovery planning may be done in-house or involve outside assistance, such as a multi-member recovery team composed of individuals from other Federal agencies, State personnel, or private contractors. All outside work is reviewed by the Service, and the Service maintains oversight and reserves the right to modify the draft plan as necessary to ensure consistency among plans, resolve disputes among recovery team members, and determine task priorities.

Recovery plans estimate the timeframe required for accomplishing recovery with the assumption that sufficient funds will be available and that cooperation will be forthcoming from all involved parties. In addition, an attempt is made to estimate the cost of complete recovery. It is acknowledged in each recovery plan that such estimates are imprecise, given the uncertainty surrounding the needs of many species and the availability of resources for agencies to accomplish assigned tasks.

The public is given the opportunity to review and comment on draft recovery plans. The Service publishes notices in the Federal Register announcing the availability of draft plans, and public comment is solicited. Generally, the public is given 30 to 60 days to comment; however, comments are accepted at any time during recovery plan preparation. In some cases, press releases are issued and public meetings held. All comments are reviewed and addressed in the final plan to the extent possible. Under Department of the Interior procedures, the development and approval phases of recovery plans are excluded from National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documentation requirements because they are advisory in nature.

Management tasks identified in the plans are subject to NEPA and other applicable laws and regulations if they are proposed for implementation. In these cases, public involvement would be sought through the development of Environmental Assessments or Environmental Impact Statements.

It is Service policy to prepare a recovery outline within 60 days of listing a species, a draft plan within 1 year of listing, and a final plan within 2.5 years of the date of listing. Recovery outlines are used as a guide for recovery until an official plan is developed. During FY 1992, the Service completed draft plans for 47 species and final plans for 41 species. Concurrently, the Service reviews and revises recovery plans as necessary.

Over 100 species have been on the list longer than 2.5 years and still lack approved recovery plans. These species are considered the recovery plan "backlog." Beginning in FY 1993, the Service plans to eliminate this backlog within 4 years while keeping up with the anticipated accelerated listing rate associated with an out-of-court settlement in Fund for Animals v. Lujan. Under this settlement, over 400 candidates for listing, mostly plants, will either be proposed for listing or removed from or reassigned on the candidate list by the end of FY 1996.

The following recovery planning targets, which reflect the number of species for which recovery plans will be developed, have been generated by the Service to eliminate the backlog while maintaining timely recovery planning efforts:

Fiscal YearDraft PlansFinal PlansTotal Plans
199312073193
1994163120283
1995168163331
1996127168295
These annual targets represent an approximate 210 percent increase over the FY 1992 recovery plan development totals. In addition, approximately 260 of the existing plans (covering 348 species) will require review and possible revision over the next few years.

While the Service is thoroughly committed to recovery planning, not all species will have recovery plans associated with their management. Some listed species, such as the Little Kern golden trout, already have recovery objectives outlined in State management plans that, in effect, double as a recovery plan. The Service uses these plans in lieu of actual recovery plans. Other species, such as Bachman's warbler and Scioto madtom, are believed to be extinct; therefore, until representatives of these species are found in the wild, recovery plan preparation is deferred. In the interim, the Service continues to solicit information relative to the status of these species.

Recovery Implementation

To appropriately use available resources, the Service has designed a two-tiered priority system to guide species recovery. The first component is recovery priority. This numerical system assigns species a rank of 1 to 18 according to the degree of threat, recovery potential, taxonomic distinctness, and presence of an actual or imminent conflict between the species' conservation and development or other economic activities. Each species is assigned a recovery priority by the lead Region at the time of listing, which is reviewed annually thereafter. The second component is the recovery task priority. In developing a recovery plan, recovery tasks are assigned numerical priorities of 1, 2, or 3 according to the relative contribution they may make to species recovery.

In concept, resources should be allocated first to accomplish priority-1 recovery tasks for species with a recovery priority number of 1 and last to priority-3 tasks for a species with a recovery priority of 18. Actual funding allocations, however, may not follow this guideline strictly in all cases. Some otherwise low priority species that need only one or two low priority tasks to complete recovery might receive resources to expedite their reclassification or delisting.

Thus, given existing resources within the Service, the primary focus of recovery implementation activities is often placed on addressing "threshold" species. Threshold species are those that, due to current situations, are about to go extinct or those that are close to recovery. Whenever a species is approaching the irreversible point of extinction, the Service must respond in an immediate, effective manner to prevent such an undesired consequence. On the other hand, the Service believes it is important to provide the necessary technical and monetary support to boost a species to full recovery when it identifies a species that is close to reaching this goal.

The tools of recovery are numerous, and their utility varies from species to species. Tools may include reintroductions of species into formerly occupied habitat (designation of a population to be reintroduced as "experimental" under section 10(j) of the Act), land acquisition, captive propagation, habitat protection, research, and public and landowner education. Depending on the significance and effect on the environment, a particular recovery action may involve the National Environmental Policy Act. In these cases, an Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement will be done, and the public given the opportunity to comment.

Frequently, the Service is criticized for the perceived slow rate at which recovery plans are implemented. The public often believes that implementation of recovery tasks identified in recovery plans is the sole responsibility of the Service. This was not the intent of Congress nor is it possible given the Service's resources. Although Congress did envision a strong leadership role for the Fish and Wildlife Service in recovery of listed species, it also recognized the roles that other Federal agencies, States, and private citizens could and should play.

The Service actively works to develop partnerships that promote recovery at the Federal, State, and local levels. Many of the species highlights found later in this report would not have been possible without the help of partners. It is the Service's goal to continue to promote partnerships, especially at the State level.

While many firm partnerships have been forged, the Service recognizes that there is room for improvement. According to the data compiled in the FY 1991 Federal and State Endangered Species Expenditures Report, approximately 10 percent of all listed species had no readily identifiable expenditures reported from any State or Federal source.

Over the last 2 years, the Service has expanded its efforts to educate other Federal agencies of their responsibilities related to recovery. For example, section 7(a)(1) of the Endangered Species Act clearly identifies the role of other Federal agencies in the recovery process by directing them to use their existing authorities to promote the conservation of listed species. Under existing authorities granted to Federal agencies through other acts, such as National Forest Management Act of 1976 [16 U.S.C.A. 1601-1614], Multiple-Use Sustained Yield Act [16 U.S.C.A. 528-531], Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972 (i.e., the Clean Water Act) [22 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.], and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act [43 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.], Federal agencies can and do have a vital role to play in the conservation of candidate and listed species.


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