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Recovery Program: Endangered and Threatened Species, 1994

Executive Summary

JPG-Iowa Pleistocene snail JPG-Shenandoah salamander


On October 7, 1988, President Reagan signed into law a bill amending the Endangered Species Act and authorizing increased appropriations to implement the Act through fiscal year 1992 (Public Law 100-478/50 CFR 1533(f)(3)). One of the major amendments made more specific the general requirement that the Secretaries of the Interior and Commerce develop and implement recovery plans. The amendment further directs the Secretaries to report every 2 years on the status of efforts to develop and implement recovery plans for all listed species and on the status of all species for which recovery plans have been developed. This report is required by section 4(f)(3) of the Act and it is the third Report to Congress on the status of the recovery program for federally listed endangered and threatened species under the Secretary of the Interior's jurisdiction.

The Endangered Species Act, passed by Congress in 1973, established a strong leadership role for the Federal government in the conservation of species at risk of extinction. Congress envisioned a network of international, national, State, and private organizations working together toward common goals. It was made clear that the people of the United States were to act together as a team to conserve not only individual species, but their habitats as well.


Recovery is the cornerstone and ultimate purpose of the endangered species program. Recovery is the process by which the decline of an endangered or threatened species is arrested or reversed, and threats to its survival are neutralized, so that its long-term survival in nature can be ensured. The goal of this process is to restore listed species to a point where they are secure, self-sustaining components of their ecosystem so as to allow Relisting. The Secretary of the Interior has delegated responsibility for endangered species recovery to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Recovery of threatened and endangered species is a tremendous challenge; but it can be done and the successes are much celebrated by the American public. Recovery must reverse decline that has occurred over the past two centuries. The habitat base for species at the time listing under the Act becomes necessary is usually very limited. Reversing long-term declines and finding innovative solutions, which conserve the habitat of listed species, while also accommodating society's other goals is another challenge. Many success stories already exist for many species that are on the road to recovery. Our success are the results of many years of research, restoration, protection, and active management, but most importantly, the key ingredient is almost always many partners working together to achieve common goals.

The primary objectives of the Service's recovery program, while working in close cooperation with our partners, are to: (1) complete development of recovery plans within 2.5 years, to the maximum extent possible, (2) determine tasks necessary to reduce or eliminate the threats to the highest priority species, (3) apply available resources to the highest priority recovery tasks, and (4) reclassify and delist species as appropriate. Recovery activities include: defining threats through research on biological requirements, managing threats through habitat protection and restoration, and achieving a stable or upward population trend for an endangered species. All of these activities and associated efforts must allow time for an endangered species to respond biologically to protective efforts implemented on its behalf.

The Service recognizes that preventing the extinction of individual species is impractical when other interdependent species that are members of the same ecosystem continue to decline. The Service is directing increased attention to producing multi-species or ecosystem recovery plans that address the needs of other species that are not primary targets of the plan, and will continue to emphasize conservation of species through a multi-species or ecosystem approach.

Although the endangered species recovery program is relatively new with respect to the considerable time required to reverse a species' decline, the program has produced many successes, including reclassifications from endangered to threatened, delistings, and achieving significant objectives on the path to recovery. Highlights of these successes are included in this report.


The extraordinary success of the recovery program is demonstrated by the fact that even with a substantial increase in the number of species listed over the past decade, over 41 percent of the 909 species listed as of September 30, 1994, have been stabilized or are improving. This success is attributed to the efforts of the Service, other Federal agencies, States, tribal governments, and private organizations and individuals. As of September 30, 1994, 893 of the 909 listed species in the United States were under the jurisdiction of the Fish and Wildlife Service. The remaining 16 species were administered by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Two hundred and eighty-two of the 893 had been listed for less than 3 years. Additionally, species that had been listed in the 3 years prior to that date did not yet have approved recovery plans. Many, however, had plans in some stage of development.

Of the 893 species, 484 (54 percent) had final approved recovery plans as of September 30, 1994, while 185 (21 percent) had a plan that was in draft (i.e., Technical or Agency Draft plans). Of the remaining 224 species without recovery plans, 159 had been listed for less than 3 years but had recovery plans under development, and 14 species (2 percent) were exempted from plan development for reasons indicated in this report. The remaining 51 species were listed longer than 3 years and did not have approved recovery plans or plans being developed. The Service has implemented a plan to eliminate this backlog by the end of FY 1997.

Table 1 summarizes the population status and trends of 776 species federally listed as of 1993 based on 5 year intervals. This table shows the percent of species that are known to be stable or improving, declining, or for which the population trend is uncertain. Stable or improving species are those for which the trend toward extinction has been halted or reversed, in the wild. Overall, the data on stable or increasing species illustrates that recovery of endangered species takes time. Just as the threats to these species accumulated through time to result in the precarious status seen for many species today, recovery will also require time.

Table 1: Summary of Current Populations Trends of Listed Species Based on Time of Listing
                                                                        Percent of Species
   Year Listed           Percent of Species      Percent of Species       with Uncertain
(5 Year Intervals)      Stable or Improving          Declining           Population Trends
    1968-1973                   58%                     30%                     12%
    1974-1978                   42%                     41%                     17%
    1979-1983                   44%                     27%                     29%
    1984-1988                   45%                     39%                     16%
    1989-1993                   22%                     34%                     44%
Of all the species listed between 1968 and 1993, only 7, or less than 1 percent, have been officially recognized as extinct and subsequently delisted. Preventing the extinction of the remaining 99 percent, which is a major portion of our Nation's heritage, is perhaps the biggest success story of the Act. The Act has also turned the tide from declining to stable or increasing for many species. Fifty-eight percent of the 108 species listed between 1968 and 1973 are currently known to be stable or improving in their native habitats. Of the 294 species listed between 1989 and 1993, only 22 percent have recovered to the point that they are stable or increasing. The fact that almost all listed species remain extant and that many species are on their way to reaching recovery goals speaks to the success of the Act as a mechanism for conserving our Nation's natural heritage.

For the species in decline or where population trends are uncertain, the Service and its partners in recovery are collecting biological information, developing recovery strategies, and implementing management activities that will stabilize, halt, or reverse the trends toward extinction.

JPG-Hawiian hawk chick JPG-Mitchell's satyr butterfly

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