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Keywords:

  • Conservation-reliant species;
  • endangered species;
  • Endangered Species Act;
  • extinction;
  • management strategies;
  • priority-setting;
  • recovery plans

Abstract

Species threatened with extinction are the focus of mounting conservation concerns throughout the world. Thirty-seven years after passage of the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 1973, we conclude that the Act's underlying assumption—that once the recovery goals for a species are met it will no longer require continuing management—is false. Even when management actions succeed in achieving biological recovery goals, maintenance of viable populations of many species will require continuing, species-specific intervention. Such species are “conservation reliant.” To assess the scope of this problem, we reviewed all recovery plans for species listed as endangered or threatened under the Act. Our analysis indicates that 84% of the species listed under the Act are conservation reliant. These species will require continuing, long-term management investments. If these listed species are representative of the larger number of species thought to be imperiled in the United States and elsewhere, the challenge facing conservation managers will be logistically, economically, and politically overwhelming. Conservation policies will need to be adapted to include ways of prioritizing actions, implementing innovative management approaches, and involving a broader spectrum of society.