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Scientists to analyze species recovery plans

Hawaii's state bird, the nene, is among the more than 900 species that have been listed as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act   

May 12, 1999
Web posted at: 3:00 PM EDT

A team of scientists began four days of meetings today in Santa Barbara, Calif., to determine how well 200 of the 519 species recovery plans spawned by the Endangered Species Act are working.

Species' recovery plans are developed to promote the recovery and conservation of species listed under the act, but to date no comprehensive review of how well the plans actually work has been conducted.

Since last fall 20 teams of graduate students at 19 universities have been going over the details of 200 plans in an effort to provide a scientific appraisal of the plans.

Led by Dee Boersma, a zoology professor at the University of Washington, three dozen of the students and scientists will go over the results this week.

"By gathering this detailed history of recovery plans, we expect we'll be able to say quite a bit about how they've evolved over time and their effectiveness," said Boersma.

As of the end of March, 519 recovery plans covering 357 animal and 568 plant species had been filed since the Endangered Species Act was passed by Congress in 1973, according to figures from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers the act. More than 400 of the plans cover a single species.

Listings have included obscure creatures such as the Tooth Cave spider in Texas; Hawaii's state bird the nene or Hawaiian Goose; a wide variety of plants, such as solano grass in California; and the U.S. national symbol, the bald eagle, which remains a threatened species in the lower 48 states.

"Nobody has really done a thorough review to characterize the recovery plans," said Boersma. What isn't clear, she said, is how the recovery plans differ from each other based on factors such as the type of species, how old the plan is, whether it covers a single species or more than one and whether a plan has been revised.

"We need to look at a number of factors, including the reason the species became endangered, the region of the country where recovery plans are in force and perhaps the popularity of the species involved," she said.

Scientists also will try to determine whether plans have been implemented completely, how revised plans differ from the originals, and whether plans are more likely to be implemented if the species are widely known by the public.

Gordon Orians, a University of Washington zoology professor, with assistance from graduate student John Hoekstra, designed the detailed questionnaire being used by graduate students for the evaluation. Fish and Wildlife Service officials helped fine-tune the document.

Since September, each team of 10 to 20 students working in a graduate seminar has examined 10 randomly selected recovery plans, along with endangered species listing documents and Fish and Wildlife Service reports to Congress. Answers to thousands of items on the questionnaire are being entered into a database on the Internet so scientists and students at all the participating institutions have access to all the data.

The data is the basis for the broader characterization and analysis of the plans at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara this week.

In June, scientists and students again will gather to talk about how to improve the plans and the species-recovery process. They also will analyze the expertise of those who write recovery plans.

"This is laying the groundwork of future, more extensive review of the recovery planning process," said Boersma.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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Congressional Research Service Report for Congress -- Endangered Species Act Amendments: Recovery Plans
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Endangered Species Home Page
Department of Zoology, University of Washington
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