Species recovery plans have multiplied quickly since the Endangered Species Act was spawned 25 years ago. But there's still a question of how well the more than 900 species listed as endangered or threatened are recovering.
Now a University of Washington zoologist is spearheading a national effort to review 200 recovery plans in detail. It is the most comprehensive review so far, and ultimately could bring a scientific appraisal of how well the recovery plans work.
"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 Dee Boersma, a UW zoology professor who is president of the Society of Conservation Biology, which is directing the review.
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 national symbol, the bald eagle, which remains a threatened species in the lower 48 states.
Since last fall, 20 teams of graduate students at 19 universities have been poring over the details of 200 recovery plans, answering thousands of questions about each. Some three dozen scientists and students, led by Boersma and former UW zoology professor Peter Kareiva, now with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will meet Wednesday through Saturday in Santa Barbara, Calif., to begin going over the results. They expect to produce the first detailed analysis of a large number of recovery plans promulgated under the act.