Listing foreign species under the Endangered Species Act: Who, how, why, and to what end?
Nearly 30% (n=632) of the species currently listed on the US Endangered Species Act (ESA) neither live, nor migrate through, the US or territories under its jurisdiction. Additionally, many of the protections afforded by the ESA, such as the development of species recovery plans and the requirement for federal consultation, are not applied to foreign listings under current federal policy. The goal of this talk is to provide a non-technical overview of this complex legal issue as a guide for ecologists and conservation biologists, and aims to precipitate a conversation regarding our current policies towards endangered foreign species. We discuss some of the pros and cons of listing foreign species through an analysis of the current composition of foreign listings, possible taxonomic bias, recovery history, and potential for increased research and funding from listing.
The top ten most highly represented families among the IUCN Red List’s Threatened species did not include any of the most highly represented families listed under the ESA. Four species listed under the foreign species program have recovered, representing a recovery rate of 0.63%, much lower than the recovery rate of domestic species (1.28%). A multi-state Markov model was applied to determine if being listed was more likely to result in changes of IUCN Red List state. There was no evidence that being listed under the ESA was associated with significantly altered transition rates among IUCN Red List Threatened categories and no evidence that being listed as Threatened or Endangered under the ESA correlates with an increasing rate of transitions to lower threat levels. The listing of a species under the ESA may, however, increase public attention and funding. An analysis of publications of ESA-listed species suggests that ESA listing increased the publication rate surrounding species deemed “charismatic”. While we find evidence that listing species under the ESA may provide benefits in some cases, assessing these benefits is nearly impossible due to the lack of data. These findings suggest a conversation about foreign-listings under the ESA is long overdue.