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Groups cite successes of Endangered Species Act

The Endangered Species Act required shrimp fishermen to use nets friendly to the endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle. As a result, numbers of the turtle are growing   

June 10, 1999
Web posted at: 4:10 PM EDT

The Endangered Species Act is succeeding, according to two environmental groups, even though only 11 of more than 1,400 species listed worldwide have been reclassified or have recovered.

Critics of the act often point to the small number of recovered species as evidence that the act is a failure. However, a report released Wednesday by two environmental groups argues that the act has actually fostered significant improvement in the well-being of many listed species.

"The report argues that the (low) figure is not the best measure of success or failure of the act to this point," said Michael Bean, director of the Environmental Defense Fund's wildlife program. "Many endangered species are making steady progress toward recovery under the Endangered Species Act."

The report, On the Road to Recovery, was released by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Endangered Species Coalition. It documents population increases over time for a wide variety of species.

"We have quantitative data on several species and each example shows that a species can make significant progress," said Bean. "But that progress is measured in decades. All of the species (in the report) are still on the list and are likely to remain on the list for many decades to come."

The report covers species as varied as the gray wolf in the Great Lakes states and the northern Rocky Mountains, the whooping crane in Texas, the Lange's metalmark butterfly in California and the Kemp's ridley sea turtle in the Gulf of Mexico.

In the 1970s, the Kemp's ridley sea turtle was virtually extinct. The dramatic decline in sea turtles was the result of the plundering of eggs on the beach and the drowning of adult and immature turtles in shrimp fishing nets in the Gulf of Mexico and the south Atlantic.

The Endangered Species Act required American shrimp fishermen to equip their nets with turtle excluder devices or "TEDs." According to the report, contrary to the claims of those who opposed the TED requirements, shrimp landings by American shrimp boats have remained high since the requirements have been in place, and numbers of Kemp's ridley sea turtles are steadily growing.

The report does note, however, that species recovery will often take many decades to accomplish and will require active management, rather than a passive "hands-off" approach, and significant resources.

Active management includes such measures of controlling the non-native and invasive species that take over the habitat of endangered species and setting prescribed burns for the benefit of species that thrive in ecosystems where natural disturbances occur, said Bean.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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On the Road to Recovery
Endangered Species Coalition
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Endangered Species
Endangered Species Act
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