Analysis of the completeness, timeliness, and age of recovery plans for ESA-listed species.
Abstract: Recovery planning is an essential part of implementing the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA), but conservationists and government agencies recognize challenges with the current planning process. Common criticisms are that too many species lack recovery plans, plans take too long to write, and they are rarely updated to include new information. Using data from all U.S. domestic and transboundary ESA-listed species—most of which are required to have recovery plans—we quantify these basic characteristics of ESA recovery planning over the past 40 years. We show that nearly 1/4 of eligible listed species (n = 1,503) lack recovery plans; the average recovery plan has taken >5 years to finalize after listing; half of recovery plans are 19 or more years old; and there is significant variation among regions and between agencies in plan completion rates and time-to-completion. These results are not unexpected given dwindling budgets and an increasing number of species to protect, but underscore the need for systematic improvements to recovery planning. We discuss solutions that may address some of the shortcomings we identify here, including a transition to dynamic, web-based recovery plans.