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New Study Challenges Claims That States are Better Than Feds Recovering Endangered Species

WASHINGTON - The federal endangered species program is as good as or better at removing species from legal protection as a result of recovery efforts than similar programs operated by states, finds a new study by World Wildlife Fund. Congress is considering dramatic changes to the act. The principle champions for changing the act have long argued that the federal law is a failure since few species protected by the statute have recovered to a point where they have been removed from legal protection, or "delisted."

"This study shows that just passing the buck to the states isn't likely to solve the endangered species problem," said Ginette Hemley, vice president for species conservation at World Wildlife Fund. "Restoring endangered species is difficult no matter who's doing it. There are no quick fixes, and weakening the Endangered Species Act certainly isn't one of them."

Hemley added that both state and federal endangered species conservation agencies are improving the status of endangered species and that critics have underestimated the difficulty of the task and oversimplified the job of evaluating progress.

In September, the House of Representatives approved legislation by a slim margin that would make sweeping changes to the Endangered Species Act, weakening federal authority, while giving additional authority to the states. Legislation is pending in the Senate and committee hearings may be scheduled in April.

"The basic fact is that the Endangered Species Act is making progress. There are very real and dramatic success stories, though everyone is frustrated that there aren't more," said Hemley. "The way to speed up recovery of more species is to adequately fund recovery efforts. I don't see how throwing up our hands in frustration and scrapping the whole effort will help matters."

Summary of Study Findings:

  • In 75 percent of the states, no species had recovered enough to be removed from the state endangered species lists.
  • Conversely, only nine states removed any species from their endangered species lists due to recovery.
  • Out of 1,725 species listed as endangered or threatened by the states, there have been 20 delistings due to recovery - 1.16 percent.
  • Out of 555 animal species listed as endangered or threatened in the United States by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there have been seven delistings due to recovery - 1.26 percent.
  • WWF study analyzed data from 36 states that keep their own endangered species lists.