The Endangered Species Act (ESA) has succeeded in shielding hundreds of species from extinction and improving species recovery over time. However, recovery for most species officially protected by the ESA – i.e., listed species—has been harder to achieve than initially envisioned. Threats to species are persistent and pervasive, funding has been insufficient, the distribution of money among listed species is highly uneven, and at least 10 times more species than are actually listed probably qualify for listing. Moreover, many listed species will require ongoing management for the foreseeable future to protect them from persistent threats. Climate change will exacerbate this problem and increase both species risk and management uncertainty, requiring more intensive and controversial management strategies to prevent species from going extinct.
In this Issue, we provide an overview of the ESA, summarize the causes and patterns of species endangerment in the United States, identify key successes and shortcomings of recovery programs, and discuss the following six broad strategies to increase the effectiveness of ESA implementation:
1. Establish and consistently apply a system for prioritizing recovery funding to maximize strategic outcomes for listed species.
2. Strengthen partnerships for species recovery by expanding collaboration among federal agencies, the states, and nongovernmental organizations and by developing incentives for private landowners.
3. Promote more monitoring and adaptive management for species recovery. Conduct targeted, efficient monitoring programs to assess species status and improve management strategies, and use adaptive management to deal with ecological complexity and uncertainty.
4. Refine methods to develop more objective, measurable recovery criteria based on the best available science.
5. Use well-established climate-smart conservation strategies such as increasing habitat connectivity and reducing nonclimate stressors; evaluate and consider using innovative climate adaptation strategies, including protecting potential future habitats, assisted colonization, and engineering new habitats.
6. Evaluate ecosystem-based approaches such as surrogate species and coarse ecological filters to develop methods that increase the efficiency of managing for recovery.