Wildlife funding could better prioritize recovery

By Dana Kobilinsky

Black footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. ©Ryan Moehring/USFWS

Some threatened and endangered species would be better off if Congress would show them the money rather than allocating funding to other species that don’t need it as much, a new study says.

The study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows how much money is needed for the recovery of all species of concern in the U.S. and offers insight into how much funding these species are receiving.

“This study was motivated by my interactions with federal agencies such as Fisheries Service and Fish and Wildlife Service that are charged with managing endangered species in the U.S.,” said Leah Gerber, a professor at the School of Life Sciences and director of the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes at Arizona State University. “These agencies are essentially challenged with an increasing magnitude of species that are of conservation concern.”

In her study, Gerber estimated that $1.21 billion would be adequate to recover the 1,125 species that she evaluated. “[The agencies] have only been allocated less than 25 percent of this amount, and they’re doing pretty well,” she said. However, as species in conservation need are increasing, the limited funding for different species is not allocated in the most strategic and systematic way, according to Gerber.

As part of her study, Gerber applied a return on investment approach in which she evaluated the cost to recover species. She developed four categories for species including ones that were declining and getting less than half of the money needed for recovery, “costly failures” that were receiving tons of money but continued to decline, ones that were cost effective and ones that were costly and successful. She found that if funding from species that were overfunded were moved to the ones that were declining and not receiving enough money, this would save 200 species.

“I’m not arguing this is the way it should be done,” Gerber said. “It’s a general way of thinking about this. We should decide as a society what criteria we want to use to make these decisions.” Gerber added that federal agencies should also remain transparent in their approaches and deliberate in their decisions.

Gerber is currently leading a group of scientists around the world at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) to help develop an approach to funding allocation that would work based on her results from the study. “I’m committed to working with them in the long haul to get something like this embraced,” she said. “I think we’re at a good time with the changing administration regardless of which way it goes.”

Dana KobilinskyDana Kobilinsky is a science writer at The Wildlife Society. Contact her at dkobilinsky@wildlife.org with any questions or comments about her article. You can follow her on Twitter at @DanaKobi.

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