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SCB Petitions Agencies To Develop Recovery Planning Regulations for Endangered Species

May 14, 2013.  Today, the Society for Conservation Biology submitted a formal petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (collectively the “Services”) requesting that these agencies develop new regulations to guide the recovery planning process for species protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The stated purpose of the ESA, the “conservation of the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend,” is best achieved when recovery efforts are guided by the best-available science.  Despite the paramount importance of recovery in the ESA, for nearly forty years, the Services have operated without any regulatory structure for recovery planning and recovery implementation.  Instead, the Services developed non-binding guidance for recovery planning in 2004.  While this guidance document has helped to clarify the procedural and logistic requirements of recovery planning, it has failed to establish substantive, science-based, sideboards to ensure that the recovery planning process always meets certain minimal requirements.  Most critically, the concept of “recovery” remains poorly defined.

The result of failing to provide a rigorous definition of recovery has led to predictable results.  Recovery criteria setting forth levels of population abundance, geographic range of recovery, and acceptable threat risk-levels post-delisting vary widely across species and taxonomic groups.  Political interference in recovery planning efforts has also occurred, most notably during the FWS recovery planning process for the Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina).  As explained by the Department of Interior Inspector General after investigating the recovery planning process for the spotted owl, the FWS “owes the public a fair and consistent application of rules in making its ESA decisions.”  Science-based regulations to guide the recovery planning process would lead to fairer and more consistent recovery plans, which would in turn benefit listed species.  SCB’s petition offers a rigorous definition of the term “recovery” that will help to ensure that each species is recovered throughout all significant portions of its historic range and provides clear regulatory sideboards on the most critical parts of the recovery planning process.

Read the full petition to the Department of Interior and Department of Commerce HERE.

This is the third petition filed by SCB to reform, strengthen, and modernize the regulations that implement the ESA.  Learn more about SCB’s previous petitions HERE.