One of the balancing acts faced by conservation agencies is how to conserve and protect as many species as possible from extinction with limited funding and finite resources. In the U.S., conservation agencies are supported and guided by the Endangered Species Act, the seminal wildlife conservation tool signed by President Nixon in 1973, but which is currently being reviewed by Congress.

Over time, the number of threatened and endangered species added to the ESA has grown faster than the funding for their recovery. As a result, conservation agencies have struggled in making decisions about how to apply the available resources to the greatest effect.

The result of this inadequate funding has been that while the ESA has brought back many species from the brink of extinction many of those species remain on “life support,” never fully recovering to independence once again. This adds fuel to the debate over the effectiveness of the ESA.

“The ESA requires that responsible agencies restore listed species to a point where they are secure, self-sustaining components of their ecosystem,” explains Leah Gerber, an Arizona State University professor in the School of Life Sciences and the founding director of the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes. “This is arguably an impossible goal given the significant human impact on species and their habitat and a budget that is a fraction (roughly 20 per cent) of what is needed to recover listed species.” 

Gerber is part of a team of researchers who developed a tool that can be used to help guide conservation scientists in making decisions on how to best use limited funds to conserve the greatest number of species. The team includes CEED researchers Michael Runge, Gwen Iacona, and Stephanie Avery-Gomm. 

The tool was developed in collaboration with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services (USFWS) scientists in a two-year project supported by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center.

The tool, called the Recovery Explorer, can be used to evaluate potential consequences of alternative resource allocation strategies. This work was motivated, in part, by past critiques of USFWS recovery allocation processes.

The researchers write about the Recovery Explorer in “Endangered species recovery: A resource allocation problem” in the Oct. 19, 2018 issue of Science. Gerber said that Recovery Explorer can be used on a laptop or in a decision-theatre type environment.

The paper is published in Science.

Read the full press release at the Arizona State University website