June 5, 2012

Inflated Endangered Species Act "success stories" revealed

By M. Reed Hopper Senior Attorney

The media has given a lot of ink to a self-serving  “report” put out by the Center for Biological Diversity that purports to demonstrate “90 percent of species are recovering at the rate specified by their federal recovery plan.”

The problem is, it ain’t so.

The “report” does demonstrate the authors’ bias however.  And one need look no further than the numbers.  According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1,391 species are listed as threatened or endangered in the United States.  Of those listings, 1,138 have recovery plans.  But the CBD “report” cherry picked the data relying on less than 10 percent of the active recovery plans in the U.S.:

“To objectively test whether the Endangered Species Act is recovering species at a sufficient rate, we compared the actual recovery rate of 110 species with the projected recovery rate in their federal recovery plans.”

This claim of objectivity is laughably ironic in light of the fact the authors ignored more than 90 percent of the data.  And of course the 110 species reported were not selected at random, but purposefully to bolster the “report’s” inflated claims of ESA success.

In 2005, CBD put out a similarly biased “report” implying that designating critical habitat for listed species doubled their chances for recovery.  But based on actual results, that claim was demonstrably false, as I point out here in my critique of the “report” for National Geographic.  Of the 15 species that had recovered by 2005, only two had designated critical habitat.

Another indication of bias in the “report” is the fact the authors assume that the increase in population numbers for any species is the result of the ESA alone, and not the result of other causes like changes in land use, private conservation efforts, other laws, and even errors in the original listings.  Of the 52 species delisted since the inception of the act, 18 were removed because of “data error” which includes a determination that there were simply greater populations of the species than known at the time of listing.  In other words, they shouldn’t have been listed in the first place.

But the real acid test of the veracity of the “report” is whether the authors believe their own hype.  Apparently they don’t.  Oh sure, you will find CBD touting a recent delisting or downlisting of a species as an ESA “success story,” but CBD isn’t in the trenches suing the Fish and Wildlife Service to reclassify recovering species.  No, that’s what Pacific Legal Foundation does.

In Table 3 of the “report” CBD lists “12 Species in the Process of Being Downlisted or Delisted” But 5 of those species are being reclassified because of petitions for downlisting or delisting filed by PLF, not CBD.  In fact, CBD appears to be missing in action when it comes to recovering species, whereas PLF is actively pursuing the reclassification of species that the government itself has determined should either be removed from the list of protected species altogether or designated as “threatened” instead of “endangered.”  See here, here, and here.  Until CBD publishes a “report” showing the species it has petitioned for downlisting and delisting, one has to wonder whether the organization really believes in ESA success stories.

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