Thursday, January 07, 2010

Evaluating State Endangered Species Lists

At a time when federal listings have been delayed and international standards are difficult to implement, state endangered species lists can play an important role in protecting at-risk species. That is, they can protect globally threatened species, especially ones for which their region bears high responsibility. Jeffrey Wells of the Boreal Songbird Initiative set out to assess how well state lists are identifying and protecting globally threatened species and the results were published this week as an article in PLoS ONE, "Global versus Local Conservation Focus of U.S. State Agency Endangered Bird Species Lists."

In the United States, 48 states maintain their own lists of species that are endangered, threatened, or of special concern. Wells uses 47 of these lists (excluding Hawaii) and divides the species into four categories based on their global risk of extinction and the degree to which a state bears responsibility for its global population. Global risk is based on assessments produced by Partners in Flight.

Percent of each state's E-T-SC bird species in each of four risk-responsibility categories. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008608.g002

The results show that states are effective at protecting those species that are at risk globally and for which states bear high responsibility. States also give protections to some species that are not at risk globally but are concentrated in their region. However, they also put a lot of effort into protecting secure but locally uncommon species that may not need help as much as the others. For example, state lists include such species as Double-crested Cormorant (2 states), Great Egret (12 states), Laughing Gull (2 states), Bank Swallow (3 states), Magnolia Warbler (2 states), and Dark-eyed Junco (3 states). Meanwhile, some globally threatened species are getting ignored, even when states bear some responsibility for maintaining that global population. Lesser Prairie-Chicken, Long-billed Curlew, Bendire's Thrasher, and Golden-winged Warbler are all listed in half or less of the states that comprise their ranges. Since none of them are federally listed either, those four receive no legal protections in the U.S. apart from what the Migratory Bird Treaty Act offers. My state, New Jersey, lists Savannah Sparrow (locally uncommon) but not Saltmarsh Sparrow (globally at-risk).

To a certain extent, it is not really the job of state wildlife agencies to assess and protect based on global risk. That is a task that should belong to the federal government, which has greater resources and more connections to international wildlife agencies for cooperation. However, many globally at-risk species fail to reach even the federal endangered list, let alone benefit from conservation actions. (According to Wells, 16 bird species listed on the IUCN Redlist are not present on the U.S. federal list.) In that context, perhaps states should take a greater role in protecting species based on their global risk of extinction, rather than local criteria. Wells, J., Robertson, B., Rosenberg, K., & Mehlman, D. (2010). Global versus Local Conservation Focus of U.S. State Agency Endangered Bird Species Lists PLoS ONE, 5 (1) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0008608