Americans weigh in on what makes a species ‘endangered’

Gray wolves (Canis lupus), like these two at Isle Royale National Park, are listed as endangered in the United States. ©Michigan Technological University

What constitutes an endangered species? Researchers recently surveyed 1,000 Americans to find out what parameters they think a species should reach to be considered endangered. They specifically looked at how much loss a species needs to endure before deserving protections. Three-quarters of the survey takers said a species deserves protections if it has become extinct on more than 30% of its range.

Researchers also studied the extent of survey takers’ knowledge about the environment as well as other factors, like if they identify as gun rights advocates or if they call themselves landowners. The results showed that those who were less knowledgeable about the environment were more accepting of loss.

The findings, researchers found, are in line with the language of the Endangered Species Act, which states a species that is “in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range,” should be considered endangered. But, the researchers found, the American public tolerates risk of extinction for wildlife less than policymakers and experts.

Read the study in Environmental Research Letters.