Abstract: To achieve conservation objectives for threatened and endangered species, managers must choose among potential recovery actions based on their efficacy. Yet, a lack of standardization in defining how conservation actions support recovery objectives can impede action efficacy and inhibit the efficient allocation of resources across species and projects. It is especially difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of actions in U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) recovery plans due to variation in how actions are described across different plans. To address this issue, we examined our ability to apply the internationally supported Conservation Measures Partnership (CMP) taxonomy to categorize existing ESA recovery plan action descriptions. Using ESA listed species in Arizona as a case study, we tested the feasibility of assigning CMP taxonomy categories to actions detailed in current recovery plans, and then used our assigned categories to assess the distribution of action categories. Pairs of researchers categorized and then compared levels of agreement between categories of recovery actions for 840 actions across 31 active recovery plans. Paired categorizations diverged for many of these actions, though confidence in action description assignments among pairs was highest in categorizing Research and Monitoring actions, which represented, on average, 53% (SD 0.9%) of actions with researcher agreement, and, on average, 42% (SD 0.08%) of classification among individual researchers. These results suggests that categorizable action descriptions most often correspond with Research and Monitoring objectives, and that other categories of actions required to delist species may be underrepresented in ESA recovery plans. We provide recommendations to support the application of the CMP taxonomy to current and future ESA recovery action descriptions using existing processes within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Our recommendations provide a roadmap for standardizing the description of recovery actions to improve decision-support for ESA-listed species.
Read the full article in Conservation Science and Practice.