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Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973 and has amended it several times
since then. The ESA is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the
National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS); these agencies, when necessary, designate species as
endangered or threatened. Following the listing of a species, USFWS/NMFS must designate
Critical Habitat and create a Recovery Plan that outlines strategies designed to facilitate recovery and eventual delisting.

Implementation of the ESA has been successful in achieving the legislation’s primary goal of
preventing species extinctions. Very few of the more than 2,300 (as of 2022) listed entities
(species, subspecies, populations) have been declared extinct. However, only 54 (as of 2021) of
the species listed under the ESA have subsequently been delisted. The slow pace of delisting is
the result of many factors, primary of which is the difficulty in recovering species in human
dominated landscapes. Although other metrics like downlisting (i.e., reclassifying a species from
endangered to threatened when its status is sufficiently improved) may provide additional insight into the success of ESA implementation, the slow rate of delisting is eroding support for the Act and the critical role it plays in the conservation of biological diversity in the U.S.

Most species are deemed threatened or endangered only after their population is critically low
and likely still declining. Population declines result from habitat loss and other threats that
require significant time, funding, and commitment to reverse through restoration, enhancement,
management, or protection. Historically, recovery of ESA-listed species has been constrained by
insufficient funding. Improvements in the status of listed species are correlated positively with
the number of years of protection under the ESA, funding available to USFWS/NMFS to
implement recovery strategies, and number of recovery plan tasks completed. Greater
commitment and integration of federal, tribal, state, local, and private resources are key to
ensuring effective implementation of the ESA to achieve its fundamental goal of preventing
extinction and recovering species.

Identifying rare and declining species before their populations reach critically low levels allows
the implementation of more ecologically, socially, and economically viable conservation options.
States and Tribes also play a key role in preventing at-risk species from requiring listing under
the ESA. At the state level, the conservation of at-risk species is largely guided by the
development and implementation of State Wildlife Action Plans (SWAPs), which currently are
funded through the federal State and Tribal Wildlife Grant program (STWG) with matching
funds from states. Current STWG and matching funds are inadequate to meet the needs and
objectives established in SWAPs.

Broader societal commitments are required to address fully the sociocultural and socioeconomic issues that frequently drive species extinction and recovery in order to effectively implement the ESA. The ESA must adapt to include and encourage proactive measures to identify and conserve critical components of landscapes. Managing and recovering endangered species will be even more challenging under climate change, because altered natural systems may pose unanticipated threats to some species, which can require re-ordering of priorities for recovery. The ESA remains a critical component of efforts to conserve biological diversity in the U.S.

The policy of The Wildlife Society regarding the U.S. Endangered Species Act is to:

  1. Support a collaborative approach to at-risk species conservation and recovery efforts
    among federal, tribal, state, and local governments, as well as private landowners and
    organizations, including the development of interagency guidelines and dedication of
    adequate funding under Section 6 of the ESA;
  2. Support the statutory duties and standards in the Endangered Species Act and actively
    promote their consistent interpretation to prevent extinctions and recover species;
  3. Work to ensure that decisions under the ESA are transparent and based on robust and
    rigorous analyses of the best scientific data and evidence available, including data
    provided by states and tribes and peer-reviewed data on current and potential future
    effects of climate change;
  4. Advocate for listing decisions that are based solely on the status of the species in
    question and oppose listing justifications based on economic and political consideration;
  5. Oppose the use of congressional action that subverts established legal and science-based
    agency processes to affect the listing status or consideration of species under the ESA;
  6. Advocate for adequate federal funding and agency staffing to ensure efficiency in ESA
    listing and recovery planning processes, implementation of recovery actions, and
    support for at-risk species conservation actions implemented by or in collaboration with
    states and tribes;
  7. Advocate for efficient and transparent rulemaking processes around critical habitat
    definitions, designation of critical habitat for listed species, and measures to restore,
    enhance, manage, and protect occupied and unoccupied critical habitats that are essential
    to recover endangered and threatened species;
  8. Support actions that incentivize and encourage private landowner to contribute to the
    recovery of listed species and conservation of at-risk species.

The Wildlife Society’s Position Statement: Conservation of Biological Diversity, states that “The
Wildlife Society supports and promotes global conservation of all components of biological
diversity including species in decline and those at risk of extinction.”

Approved by TWS Council in November 2023.

The U.S Endangered Species Act Issue Statement PDF