Are recovery plans improving with practice?

Cheryl B. Schultz, Leah Gerber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


We asked two basic questions about endangered species recovery plans: (1) Have recovery plans improved over the last decade? (2) Are important features of recovery plans biased toward plants or animals? We answer these questions in the context of a large national study aimed at statistically summarizing key features of recovery plans and how those plans use science. In addition, we asked if the status of endangered species tends to be improving. Overall, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is improving in its use of science in recovery plans. For example, based on the increased number of monitoring tasks included in more recent plans, the USFWS is becoming more concerned with the need to monitor changes in endangered species populations and their habitats. Similarly, specific recovery criteria, such as the number of years that a species needs to maintain a target population size, are more often being included in recovery plans. However, several features of recovery plans have not shown improvement, such as the tasks recommended to address major threats and the limited influence of focal species' biology on the selection of recovery criteria and monitoring protocols. Recovery plan features tend to be biased toward animals in several ways. Among animals, more tasks are recommended to address limitations in current biological information, to address major threats to the species, and to enhance public relations than is the case for plants. Finally, ∼30% of species for which the current recovery plan is older than 1990 are increasing in abundance, a marked improvement over those species for which the recovery plan was only recently written. These data suggest that the process of listing species and writing recovery plans is working. In addition, animal populations are more often increasing in abundance than plant populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)641-647
Number of pages7
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2002


  • Conservation biology
  • Endangered Species Act
  • Extinction
  • Recovery plan

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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