Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Species: Recovery Plans

The biologists at the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) are the people who compile all of the known data about a species, which is used to determine if the species should be listed as Endangered or Threatened, or not at all, on the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Species. They write the recovery plans and subsequent status reviews for getting the species back to sustainable population levels. These plans describe the current known locations, ranges, and population sizes of the species at the known locations. In addition, the plans outline the threats that the species face at local sites and across their range. Along with listing the threats, the plans also suggest methods for alleviating the threats and ways that the species can “recover” and eventually be delisted (downgraded from Endangered to Threatened or removed from the Federal List). Leaving aside the dilemmas and debates surrounding the burdens versus benefits provided by listing a species (for now); there is some valuable information in these plans for the private landowner. Photo: Kirtland Warbler by hartvillestuff from iNaturalist.org.

Kirtland's Warbler by hartvillestuff

The recovery of a species involves many more people that the FWS biologists overseeing the recovery plans; there are state and local biologists, regional and local land managers, private landowners, and students and professors from colleges and universities all having a role. In most of the plans I have reviewed, private landowners are mentioned often, and are crucial players in a species road to recovery. It is true that private landowners are not always willing to cooperate with agency or academic researchers, but often they are. While gathering data for the Copperbelly Water Snake, “Nine private property owners were contacted in 2005 and 2006, all of whom granted permission to survey their properties.”*  

Private landowners are important members in a “species recovery team”.

·  Private land parcels adjacent to previously known sites are often sources for documenting new occurrences.

· Private landowners know their land well and can be additional “eyes” monitoring for a species’ presence.

· Many (sometimes most) of the known sites that comprise a species population are on private land and are likely scattered across a larger landscape requiring cooperation with, and among, private landowners.

Recovery plans set population number “targets” that need to be reached before a species can be delisted and considered stable. Private lands are critical to reaching these targets and when private lands are adequately inventoried a species’ overall status can be better understood. Private landowners could help speed a species recovery (delisting) or they could help with the identification of enough population sites to prevent the listing in the first place!

Participating landowners with viable populations may very likely be given prioritization for conservation and recovery efforts. This could mean substantial financial and/or technical support to improve habitat conditions on their property. Limited know-how and high costs are two barriers for landowners wanting to make wildlife habitat improvements. Having a federally-listed species on a property (or appropriate habitat) could be the key to getting the resources a landowner needs to do their desired projects.

The recovery plans and supporting documents describe the necessary habitat requirements for a particular animal or plant species and they will include habitat management guidelines for landowners. These guidelines can be useful for any landowner interested in establishing, maintaining, or restoring any animal or plant habitat.  Now tracking down and sorting out the relevant information from these documents is..., well, who has time for that? Rate My Land will boil down interesting and helpful information from these documents for you. Check out the Biodiversity section of the RML blog for new posts! 

*Y. L. Lee, H. D. Enender, and Bruce A. Kingsbury. Population Monitoring and Habitat Characterization for the Conservation and Recovery of the Northern Population of the Copperbelly Water Snake (Nerodia erythrogaster neglecta). U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2007.