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United States recovery plans contain biological information for a species listed under the Endangered Species Act and specify recovery criteria to provide basis for species recovery. The objective of our study was to evaluate whether recovery plans provide uncertainty (e.g., variance) with estimates of population size. We reviewed all finalized recovery plans for listed terrestrial vertebrate species to record the following data: (1) if a current population size was given, (2) if a measure of uncertainty or variance was associated with current estimates of population size and (3) if population size was stipulated for recovery. We found that 59% of completed recovery plans specified a current population size, 14.5% specified a variance for the current population size estimate and 43% specified population size as a recovery criterion. More recent recovery plans reported more estimates of current population size, uncertainty and population size as a recovery criterion. Also, bird and mammal recovery plans reported more estimates of population size and uncertainty compared to reptiles and amphibians. We suggest the use of calculating minimum detectable differences to improve confidence when delisting endangered animals and we identified incentives for individuals to get involved in recovery planning to improve access to quantitative data.


Authors: Aaron M. Haines, Matthew Zak, Katie Hammond, J. Michael Scott, Dale D. Goble & Janet L. Rachlow

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