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GAO Endangered Species Report: Little Reason to Expect Poor Recovery Record To Improve

April 26, 2005

Washington, DC - Because only a handful of domestic species, 10 of more than 1200, have ever been recovered and removed from the endangered species list, House Committee on Resources Chairman Richard W. Pombo (R-CA) engaged the Government Accounting Office (GAO) in reviewing how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) allocates funds to recovery efforts. The report released today noted that not a single plant or animal with the highest recovery priority was among the 20 species receiving the most recovery dollars.

The report compared federal expenditures on listed endangered species to FWS recovery-priority rankings between Fiscal Years 2001 and 2003. Results noted that while the Service spent its recovery budget in accordance with priority guidelines, 92 percent of all species were ranked in the upper-half of the priority system.

"The GAO's numbers show that the Service's priority system is not efficient," Pombo said. "In practice, it is like having a huge 'TO DO' list and putting a star next to every item because it's the most important. The priority becomes everything, but nothing gets done."

"It shouldn't be a surprise less than 1 percent of listed species have recovered if we can't establish meaningful priorities," Pombo continued. "Congress bears just as much responsibility for the poor track record as the agencies implementing the law. This is just another symptom of a law that desperately needs updating."

FWS assigns a recovery priority on a scale of one to18 for each endangered animal or plant. The priority system considers several factors and ranks animals and plants higher when they face greater threats, have a greater potential for recovery or possess genetic distinctiveness.

  • Not a single plant or animal with the highest recovery priority (1) was among the 20 species receiving the most FWS recovery dollars and about half of the top twenty were not in the highest group of recovery priority species.
  • GAO found that FWS generally spends its funds on higher priority species. However these expenditures may not mean much upon examination of the priority ranking system. GAO found that FWS ranked 92 percent of animals and plants in the upper half of the priority system, a strong sign that the assigned priorities are not efficient.
  • Despite the fact that a "species' " genetic distinctiveness ranks higher than a "subspecies'," GAO found subspecies got more than twice the funding species received.
  • GAO also found funding decisions were based to a "significant extent" on factors other than recovery priority and that each regional office allocated funding differently, "but in no case was priority the driving factor." Further, GAO found that FWS had no system of monitoring the different regional offices funding practices to assess if funds were being directed at higher priority species.

The recovery program's poor record of bringing species to a point at which they may be taken off the list has been plagued by the program's skewed assessment of recovery priorities, the disproportionate expenditures on subspecies and the lack of a uniform system to ensure recovery dollars go to the highest priority species.

"This is not encouraging," said Pombo. "There is little reason to believe focused conservation efforts will improve the current meager rate of species recovery under the ESA"

To view the report, click here: GAO Report on Endangered Species.

More: Committee to hold field hearing on ESA this Saturday, April 30th.





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