In its newly-released proposed recovery plan for the Desert pupfish (Cyprinodon macularius), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“Service”) has put into action its internal plan to add quantitative criteria to recovery plans. The pupfish recovery plan, originally adopted in 1993, contained only qualitative criteria when adopted. In its proposed revisions to the pupfish’s recovery plan, the Service adds quantitative criteria for whether the pupfish should be considered for delisting or when it has “recovered,” including the number of established populations that would make the species eligible for delisting, as well as the new requirement that a Tier 2 population of the species must persist for at least 20 years. This is one of the first of the approximately 182 recovery plans that the Service anticipates updating and revising pursuant to the Interior Department’s “priority performance goals,” which commits the Service to revising all Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) recovery plans to include quantitative criteria by September 2019.
ESA recovery plans are often described by the Service as “non-regulatory guidance documents that identify, organize and prioritize recovery actions, set measurable recovery objectives, and include time and cost estimates.” The Service’s push to add quantitative criteria to recovery plans is intended to address the often lacking criteria for when a species has recovered and is therefore eligible to be removed from the list of Endangered and Threatened Species. At present, the majority of ESA recovery plans establish qualitative criteria which would allow a species to be downlisted from endangered to threatened, but do not establish delisting criteria.
In addition to the pupfish, the Service has issued proposed revised recovery plans for the Delhi sands flower-loving fly (Rhaphiomidas terminates abdominalis) and the Florida salt marsh vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus dukecampbelli), among others. For many of these species, the new recovery/delisting criteria will likely be irrelevant, as the species continue to decline in population and remain far from any sort of recovery. However, this move does address a notable deficiency in the existing ESA recovery plans and will be an important one for species whose populations have rebounded since listing.