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, 28 (1), 33-43

A Framework for Developing Objective and Measurable Recovery Criteria for Threatened and Endangered Species


A Framework for Developing Objective and Measurable Recovery Criteria for Threatened and Endangered Species

Gina K Himes Boor. Conserv Biol.


For species listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service are tasked with writing recovery plans that include "objective, measurable criteria" that define when a species is no longer at risk of extinction, but neither the act itself nor agency guidelines provide an explicit definition of objective, measurable criteria. Past reviews of recovery plans, including one published in 2012, show that many criteria lack quantitative metrics with clear biological rationale and are not meeting the measureable and objective mandate. I reviewed how objective, measureable criteria have been defined implicitly and explicitly in peer-reviewed literature, the ESA, other U.S. statutes, and legal decisions. Based on a synthesis of these sources, I propose the following 6 standards be used as minimum requirements for objective, measurable criteria: contain a quantitative threshold with calculable units, stipulate a timeframe over which they must be met, explicitly define the spatial extent or population to which they apply, specify a sampling procedure that includes sample size, specify a statistical significance level, and include justification by providing scientific evidence that the criteria define a species whose extinction risk has been reduced to the desired level. To meet these 6 standards, I suggest that recovery plans be explicitly guided by and organized around a population viability modeling framework even if data or agency resources are too limited to complete a viability model. When data and resources are available, recovery criteria can be developed from the population viability model results, but when data and resources are insufficient for model implementation, extinction risk thresholds can be used as criteria. A recovery-planning approach centered on viability modeling will also yield appropriately focused data-acquisition and monitoring plans and will facilitate a seamless transition from recovery planning to delisting.

Keywords: Acta de Especies en Peligro; Endangered Species Act; análisis de viabilidad poblacional; environmental laws; environmental policy; especies amenazadas; estudio de riesgo de extinción; extinction risk assessment; leyes ambientales; modelación de poblaciones; planes de recuperación; políticas ambientales; population modeling; population viability analysis; recovery plans; threatened species.

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