Washington Law Review


Dale D. Goble


The drafters of the Endangered Species Act envisioned a process in which a species at risk of extinction would be protected while the threats it faces are removed so that it recovers. Over the first three decades of experience with the Act, implementation has proved to be far more complex. Recovering at-risk species imposes two different types of requirements. Biologically, recovery is a demographic problem: the species's population must have increased in numbers and dispersed geographically to a point at which nature's random risks have been reduced so that the species is no longer in danger of extinction. The risk-management problem is equally important: there must be regulatory or other conservation mechanisms that are sufficient to prevent the species from slipping back into its at-risk status once the Act's protections are removed. Historically, species have been delisted as recovered when their demographic status was substantially improved and a risk-management system had been developed. Recently, however, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has operationally redefined a crucial term in the Act's risk assessment standards and has begun delisting species whose populations are still geographically restricted. This core-area management approach raises substantial biological questions—particularly in a time of rapid climatic change.

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