Endangered species recovery plan

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An endangered species recovery plan is a document describing the current status, threats and intended methods for increasing rare and endangered species population sizes. The U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 requires that all species considered endangered must have a plan implemented for their recovery,[1] but the format is also useful when considering the conservation of any endangered species. Recovery plans act as a foundation from which you can build a conservation effort and they can help to make conservation more effective.[2]


The United States congress said in 1973 that endangered species "are of aesthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation and its people." [3] They therefore set laws to protect endangered species. Section 4(f) of the United States Endangered Species Act from 1973 directs the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce to develop and implement recovery plans to promote the conservation of endangered and threatened species.[4] The Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service are responsible for administering the act. The recovery plan is a document which specifies what research and management actions are necessary to support recovery, but does not itself commit manpower or funds. Recovery plans are used in setting funding priorities and provide direction to local, regional, and state planning efforts. Recovery is when the threats to species survival are neutralized and the species will be able to survive in the wild.[5]

The International Union for Conservation of Nature also create similar documents, Species Action Plans, which are used to outline the conservation strategies of species, normally between set dates.[6] These documents are used to clearly define the status and threats to the species, and set aims for conservation so that parties involved can work towards a common goal.[7]

Endangered species[edit]

U.S. Endangered Species Act Categories

An endangered species is a species which is likely to become extinct. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has 17 categories of species status. These categories are used in the documents produced for the U.S. Endangered species act. The categories include:

  • Endangered (E) for species “in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range”
  • Threatened (T) for species “likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range”
  • Candidate (C) for species currently under consideration
  • Species endangered due to “similarity of appearance” (SAE)
  • Species of concern (SC) for species that are considered “important to monitor” but have not been categorized as E,T or C
  • Delisted species removed from the list due to species recovery or extinction [8]
IUCN red list categories

The IUCN also has categories that it uses to classify species, which are more widely used in conservation. These are:

  • Extinct (EX) – there are no individuals remaining of that species at all
  • Extinct in the wild (EW) – there are no individuals remaining of that species in the wild at all
  • Critically Endangered (CR) – there is a very high risk that the species will soon go extinct in the wild, for example because there is only a very small population remaining
  • Endangered (EN) – there is a high risk of the species soon becoming extinct in the wild
  • Vulnerable (VU) – there is a high risk that the species will soon become endangered
  • Near threatened (NT) – there is a risk that the species will become threatened in the near future
  • Least concern (LC) – there is a low risk that the species will become threatened. This category is used for “widespread and abundant taxa”
  • Data Deficient (DD) – there is not enough data on the species to be able to make a reliable assessment on the status of the species
  • Not evaluated (NE) – the species has not yet been evaluated [9]

Contents of a recovery plan[edit]

The recovery plan must contain at least:

  1. A description of what is needed to return the species to a healthy state
  2. Criteria for what this healthy state would be, so that the species can be removed from the endangered list when it is achieved
  3. Estimates of how long the recovery will take and how much it will cost [4]

A recovery plan often contains the following sections:

  • Background of the species - a description of the species, its taxonomy, population structure and life history. This includes the distribution, food sources, reproduction and abundance
  • Threats - the main reasons why the species is now at risk of extinction
  • Recovery strategy - details of how the species can be returned to a healthy state, including the goals, timeline, methods and criteria for delisting.[2]

Adaptive management[edit]

When recovery plans are carried out well, they do not simply act as stop gaps to prevent extinction, but can restore species to a state of health so they are self-sustaining. There is evidence to suggest that the best plans are adaptive and dynamic, responding to changing conditions. However, adaptive management requires the system to be constantly monitored so that changes are identified.[10] Surprisingly this is frequently not done, even for species that have already been red listed.[11] The species must be monitored throughout the recovery period (and beyond) to ensure that the plan is working as intended. The framework for this monitoring should be planned before the start of the implementation, and the details included in the recovery plan. Information on how and when the data will be collected should be supplied.[12]

Habitat conservation plan[edit]

An alternative method of conserving a species is to conserve the habitat that the species is found in. In this process, there is no target species for conservation, but rather the habitat as a whole is protected and managed, often with a view to returning the habitat to a more natural state. In theory, this method of conservation can be beneficial because it allows for the entire ecosystem and the many species within to benefit from conservation, rather than just the single target species.[13] The International Union for Conservation of Nature suggest there is evidence that habitat based approaches do not have enough focus on individual species to protect them sufficiently.[14] However much research now is turning towards area-based strategies in preference to individual species approaches such as endangered species recovery plans.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "16 U.S. Code § 1533 - Determination of endangered species and threatened species". LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  2. ^ a b National Marine Fisheries Service. "Interim Endangered and Threatened Species Recovery Planning Guidance" (PDF).
  3. ^ U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Endangered Species Program - Species - Why Save Species?". Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  4. ^ a b "Recovery of Species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)". Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  5. ^ "Recovery Plan for Upland Species of the San Joaquin Valley, California". Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  6. ^ "IUCN - Species Action Plans". Archived from the original on 25 March 2016. Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  7. ^ "Species Action Plan - Conservation - Environment - European Commission". Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  8. ^ U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Endangered Species Program. "Endangered Species Program - About Us - Frequently Asked Questions - Species Status Codes". Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  9. ^ "2001 Categories & Criteria (version 3.1)". Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  10. ^ Clark JA et. al. (2002). "Improving U.S. Endangered Species Act Recovery Plans: Key Findings and Recommendations of the SCB Recovery Plan Project". Conservation Biology. 16: 1510–1519. doi:10.1046/j.1523-1739.2002.01376.x.
  11. ^ Storch, I. "Grouse: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan 2006-2010" (PDF).
  12. ^ Aveling, C. et. al. "Bonobo (Pan paniscus)" (PDF).
  13. ^ a b Rohlf, DJ. (1991). "Six Biological Reasons Why the Endangered Species Act Doesn't Work - And What to Do About It". Conservation Biology. 5: 273–282. doi:10.1111/j.1523-1739.1991.tb00139.x. JSTOR 2385897.
  14. ^ "IUCN - Conservation Planning". Archived from the original on 14 March 2016. Retrieved 21 March 2016.

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