Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

For Immediate Release: April 6, 2006                

Contact: Kieran Suckling, Policy Director, Center for Biological Diversity  (520) 275-5960

GAO Study: Pombo Endangered Species Act Claims Misleading
Few Species Were Expected to Recover by 2005

Pombo press spin a sign of desperation; Congressman claims
one of the ESA's clearest success stories is a failure

Tucson, Ariz. – Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., has repeatedly asserted that the Endangered Species Act has failed because only 1 percent of the 1,300 species under its care have fully recovered and been removed from the endangered list. Scientists have roundly denounced this claim as gibberish because endangered species have been protected for an average of only 16.5 years, while the average federal recovery plan predicts that 35 to 50 years will be needed restore them. In a report released April 6, 2006, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examined this issue and squarely sided with the scientists. Titled  Endangered Species: Time and Costs Required to Recover Species Are Largely Unknown, the report states:

 "Critics, on the other hand, counter that it is an indication of the act’s failure that only 17 of these species have “recovered,” or improved to the point that they no longer need the act’s protection. However, we believe that these numbers, by themselves, are not a good gauge of the act’s success or failure; additional information on when, if at all, a species can be expected to fully recover and be removed from the list would provide needed context for a fair evaluation of the act’s performance." (p. 1).

"The success of the Endangered Species Act is difficult to measure because some of the recovery plans we reviewed indicated that species were not likely to be recovered for up to 50 years. Therefore, simply counting the number of extinct and recovered species periodically or over time, without considering the recovery prospects of listed species, provides limited insight into the overall success of the services’ recovery programs." (p. 5).

"Richard Pombo's lies and exaggerations are catching up with him," said Kieran Suckling, policy director of the Center for Biological Diversity. "The GAO has confirmed that his primary anti-Endangered Species Act message is gibberish. Pombo is a one-trick-pony and the pony just died."

Analyzing 107 federal recovery plans, the GAO found that only seven predicted full recovery by 2005, and then only if the federal government fully funded the recommended conservation actions. The conclusion is very similar to a recent Center for Biological Diversity report which examined all endangered species in the northeastern United States. The Center's report found that federal recovery plans predicted only 11 species would recover by 2005 and that the average expected recovery time was 42 years, while this group of species was listed for an average of only 24 years. The Center's report is posted at

How did Richard Pombo react to the GAO declaring that his primary sound bite is meaningless? He repeated the sound bite, of course:

"In more than three decades, the ESA has recovered less than 1 percent of the 1,300 species on its list,” said the House Resources Committee chairman.

Did Pombo not read the GAO report? Here it is again: "Critics, on the other hand, counter that it is an indication of the act’s failure that only 17 of these species have ‘recovered,’ or improved to the point that they no longer need the act’s protection. However, we believe that these numbers, by themselves, are not a good gauge of the act’s success or failure." Could the GAO have been any clearer?

"Pombo is like a broken record; no matter how out of tune his song is, he keeps playing it," said Suckling, "Like his friend Jack Abramoff, Pombo is learning that the truth will out. Obsessively repeating a lie doesn't make it true."

Having ignored the GAO's primary conclusion, Pombo goes on to mischaracterize the report in whole:

  • Pombo Lie #1: Press release headline: "GAO Report Shows Agencies Fail to Plan Adequately for Species Recovery: Lack of planning has led to the ESA's failure to recover species"
  • GAO Report: The report offers no opinion about whether ESA has adequately recovered species, and states that such an assessment cannot be made from recovery statistics.
  • Pombo Lie #2: “New U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released yesterday confirms that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is not working effectively and is in need of reform”
  • GAO Report: The report documents federal failures to implement the ESA and calls for an administrative commitment to fully implement it. It nowhere faulted the ESA and nowhere suggested that legislation is needed to fix it.

Pombo's use of the California least tern as an example of an Endangered Species Act failure is extremely deceptive. According to Pombo, "the plan for the least tern anticipated recovery costs of $2,000,000 and that the bird could be delisted in 2005. Federal and State agencies have spent over $23,000,000 million on the bird and in its most recent Congressional report the USFWS estimated that the species' status is ‘unknown’ and that it has only achieved somewhere between 0 and 25 percent of its recovery objectives."

When placed on the endangered species list in 1970, the California least tern was reduced to just 225 pairs. It has since grown to nearly 7,000 pairs. The fact that its exact status was "unknown" during the short two-year window examined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report is meaningless. The California least tern is universally regarded as a success story on par with the bald eagle and peregrine falcon. It has a ways to go to full recovery, but there is no question it is heading there rapidly.


The GAO report is available at:
The Center for Biological Diversity's report is available at:


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