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Endangered and Threatened Species Recovery Program

Recovery Successes


JPG-Banding Kirtland's Warbler

As mentioned earlier, the purposes of the Endangered Species Act are to provide a means to conserve the ecosystems upon which endangered and threatened species depend and to provide a program for the conservation of these species. Unfortunately, by the time species are listed and the protections of the Act are in place, they often have declined to such an extent that major efforts are needed just to prevent extinction, and the ecosystems upon which they depend have been so degraded that their ability to support a diverse assemblage of species is in question.

A major commitment of time and resources is often needed to stabilize populations and begin to reverse the downward trend of species. Although the endangered species recovery program is relatively new with respect to the time involved in turning around a species' decline, many success stories can be told. Primary recovery efforts generally aim at stabilizing or reversing deterioration of a species' habitat or decline in its numbers and then restoring it to a condition in which it is likely to survive over the long-term. Delisting is the ultimate goal of the recovery program.

A short-term measure of the Service's recovery efforts to date is the proportion of listed species whose status has been stabilized, particularly among species that are habitat-limited and thus more vulnerable to changes in their environment. Maintenance of remaining populations of listed species and prevention of their extinction is basic to the recovery program.

Successes of the recovery program, whether they be reclassifications, delistings, or significant steps toward achieving species recovery objectives, have been many. Highlights of some of these successes are included below and in the selected species highlights presented later in the report.

Aleutian Canada goose

This subspecies was once widespread throughout the Aleutian chain in Alaska and the Bering Sea. It suffered a drastic decline when commercial fox farmers introduced non-native foxes onto the islands from about 1836 to about 1930. The geese were easy prey. Hunting and loss of wintering habitat also may have contributed to the decline of the Aleutian Canada goose. Only 200 to 300 geese were thought to remain by the time the species was listed as endangered in 1967. Originally, nesting was believed restricted to a single small island, Buldir Island, but additional remnant populations were subsequently found. Eliminating foxes from the islands and relocating wild family groups of geese from Buldir resulted in successful reestablishment on additional islands with natural reestablishment on other islands. On the wintering grounds, a major effort was undertaken to protect the wintering flocks from hunting and to preserve roosting and feeding habitat. Several key staging and wintering habitats in Oregon and California have been protected through easements and inclusion within the National Wildlife Refuge System. Other important areas have been acquired by the California State Wildlife Area and Park systems. As a result of the recovery efforts on both the breeding and wintering grounds, the Aleutian Canada goose population has increased in the wild from fewer than 800 birds in 1975 to approximately 7,900 during winter 1991/1992. Recent surveys indicate that the goose now nests on nine islands in the Aleutian chain, up from three at the start of recovery efforts. As a result of recovery efforts, the Aleutian Canada goose was reclassified from endangered to threatened in 1990.

American alligator

Through law enforcement and State cooperation, recovery was achieved by controlling the illegal "taking" of alligators and managing commerce in meat and leather products. The species remains on the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife only because of its similarity of appearance to the listed American crocodile and other crocodilians subject to import. Because it is difficult to distinguish the parts and products of listed and non-listed crocodilian species, the American alligator remains on the list to ensure protection of listed crocodiles. In essence, owners of alligator parts must be able to prove that they do not own mislabeled or falsified crocodile parts. However, the alligator no longer receives the full protection of the Act.

American and Arctic peregrine falcons, bald eagle, and Eastern brown pelican

These three species benefitted from aggressive habitat management, protection during the breeding season and, most of all, from the banning of DDT. The chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticide DDT and its metabolic byproducts caused thinning of the eggshells and nest failures. The peregrine falcon also benefitted from a broad-based public involvement in the raising of falcons in captivity and their reintroduction to appropriate relatively DDT-free habitat. The 1992 production survey results for bald eagles in the lower 48 States reported good news for the eagle. In 1963, 417 occupied eagle territories were known to exist. Over the years that number has increased steadily, but even more significant is that the rate of increase has more than doubled in the last 20 years. In 1992, 3,747 occupied territories were reported. As a result of the banning of DDT and recovery efforts, the Atlantic Coast, Florida, and Alabama population of the brown pelican was delisted in 1985. Proposals to reclassify the bald eagle and American peregrine falcon from endangered to threatened status over a significant portion of their range and a proposal to delist the Arctic peregrine falcon are under consideration for publication in 1993.

Black-footed ferret

A long history of prairie dog control programs has reduced populations of this preferred prey of ferrets. Once thought to be extinct, the ferret was rediscovered in 1981 near Meeteetse, Wyoming. Canine distemper devastated that wild population in the late 1980s. A captive propagation program, founded by the 18 survivors of this population, has been extremely successful, resulting in a population of over 400 by mid-1992. In the fall of 1991, 49 juvenile ferrets were released in the Shirley Basin area of southeast Wyoming as part of a nonessential experimental population. The release was the result of considerable landowner cooperation. The landowners owned about 55 percent of the management area where the ferrets were released. A similar release is planned for the fall of 1992. The Service has confirmed at least four surviving ferrets and six young born in the wild from the l99l release. Releases in South Dakota and Montana are being considered for FY 1993. Releases of captive bred ferrets will continue in other States as new sites are identified and releases are coordinated with involved agencies and landowners.

California condor

Environmental contaminants, conflicts with man, and specialized habitat requirements have brought the condor to the very brink of extinction over the past 200 to 300 years. In 1987, the last California condor was removed from the wild for captive breeding; at that time the total population was at a low of 27 birds. An aggressive captive breeding program increased their numbers to 64 birds in 1992. A surrogate species, the Andean condor, was used to study techniques for returning California condors to the wild. In January 1992, two California condors from the captive flock were released to the wild. Additional release efforts will continue as excess birds become available from the captive flock.

Furbish lousewort

A major educational effort on the Furbish lousewort after its listing as endangered in 1978 resulted in increased landowner contact and public awareness. Since then, a local Land Conservation Trust has been established, conservation easements on lousewort habitat are being pursued, local botanists have been hired to survey for the plant, and an enhanced conservation ethic is being observed.

Greenback cutthroat trout

Originally listed as endangered in 1967, the greenback cutthroat trout was reclassified as threatened in 1978. This native trout declined due to the introduction of nonnative rainbow, brook, and brown trout that outcompeted or hybridized with the greenback cutthroat trout in its native streams. At the time of its original listing, only two small historic populations were known to exist. Since then, the Service has restored the species in over 40 lakes and streams in and around Rocky Mountain National Park and other areas in Colorado. There is catch and release fishing for the species in 15 lakes, and a new captive broodstock is being established by the Colorado Division of Wildlife for future stocking. The species is nearing its recovery goals and, with continued reintroduction of the greenback cutthroat trout into its native streams and continued control of nonnative trout, the species might be delisted by the year 2000.

Peter's Mountain mallow

This plant occurs naturally at only one known spot on earth, Peter's Mountain in southwest Virginia. When the species was listed in 1986, only three individuals remained. The fruits were dropping off these plants before seeds were produced, and no new mallow plants were germinating. Botanists sifted through samples of leaf litter in search of viable seeds at the population site. Ninety-five seeds were found and research began on why these seeds were not germinating naturally. They found that the seeds had to be scarified in order to germinate. The botanists succeeded in producing many healthy plants that produced healthy fruits and thousands of seeds. This seed source allowed further study on the species, and the botanists determined that the original plants were not producing seeds because the species is not self-fruitful. Under natural conditions, seed coats were broken by light fires and, thus, fire suppression contributed to the species' endangerment. Listing of this plant led to the acquisition of its site which is now protected. Management tools, such as prescribed burning, will be used to further promote this species.

Red wolf

In the 1970s, at the very verge of extinction, the last remaining wild red wolves were captured. The species has been successfully raised in captivity through the cooperative efforts of the Service and the zoological community. With the help of The Nature Conservancy, land was acquired for establishment of the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina where red wolves were first reintroduced in 1987. In 1991, red wolves also were reintroduced into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Some 100 wolves are now in captivity and at a minimum another 30 to 35 are free in the wild at the two reintroduction sites.

Whooping crane

From a low of 16 birds in 1941, the wild population now consists of over 150 cranes that summer in Canada and winter at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Another dozen birds exist in a reintroduced flock that summers around Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Idaho, and winters on or near the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. In addition, efforts are under way to reintroduce a non-essential experimental population of whooping cranes into the Kissimmee Prairie in central Florida in FY 1993. The captive flocks at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, International Crane Foundation in Wisconsin, and San Antonio Zoo in Texas now consist of about 90 birds.

These preceding highlights demonstrate that it is possible to reverse the road to extinction. These and many other species have clearly benefitted from protection under the Endangered Species Act.


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