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Good Question: How Effective Is The Endangered Species List?

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(credit: CBS) Heather Brown
Heather Brown loves to put her innate curiosity to work to answer yo...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced Monday that the bald eagle, gray wolf, snapping turtle and 26 other animals and plants would be off the state’s endangered species list. It’s the first change to the list in 17 years.

So, that had us wondering: how effective is the endangered species list?

Richard Baker, the endangered species coordinator for the DNR, argues that it’s very successful. He calls the case of the bald eagle the perfect example.

“We learned what was wrong back in the 1940s,” Baker said. “And, we outlawed DDT.”

In 2007, it was removed from the federal list of endangered species. On Monday, the DNR removed it from the state’s list as well.

“At that time we had maybe fewer than 50 bald eagles in the state. We now have over 1000 bald eagles in the state,” he said.

Since 1996, 29 species have been taken off Minnesota’s list of endangered species, which includes three levels: endangered, threatened and species of concern.

In that same time period, 180 species have been added.

The federal list is much larger. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, there are 1,482 species under its care.

Most of these animal species may not be as glamorous as the bald eagle or the gray wolf, but Dr. Roopali Phadke, professor of environmental policy at Macalester College, says that doesn’t matter to conservationists.

“The sage grouse – they’re not even attractive birds. We’re spending lots of resources trying to save them, but it’s because we’re trying to save their ecosystems, too,” Dr. Phadke said.

Since the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) went into effect in 1973, one percent of species have been removed from the list; some due to extinction, some due to recovery.

“If you asked me that question 20 years from now, I’m pretty confident I’d be able to say it’s a huge success. I think at this particular moment in history, it’s a little harder to convince people because they haven’t seen enough species come back from the brink,” she said.

But Dr. Phadke points out that the ESA has saved many species from extinction, and urges any critics to give it time.

The Center for Biological Diversity found 90 percent of the species on the list are recovering at their expected rates. The Center says, on average, species have been listed for 32 years, but require 46 years of listing.

“It takes a really long time to do that,” she said.

Each year, the government spends hundreds of millions of dollars protecting thousands of species, while hundreds of millions of dollars are lost in development projects or jobs that don’t happen.

“We weren’t supposed to look at the dollars 40 years ago, but we still do,” Baker said. “And we have to weigh those against the intrinsic value of those amazing creatures.”

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