Wolf Delisting Challenges Demonstrate Need for an Improved Framework for Conserving Intraspecific Variation under the Endangered Species Act
November 30, 2020
If applied generally to other species, the 2019 rule’s approach to ESA implementation would represent a significant scaling back of recovery efforts for widely distributed species that would increase both short term vulnerability and long-term loss of adaptive potential.
Recent advances in genomics have increased our understanding of geographic patterns of intraspecific variation and the importance of this variation in enhancing species’ potential to adapt to novel threats. However, as part of an effort to limit the scope of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the US government has proposed the removal of the gray wolf from the list of protected species on the basis of a claim that the statute permits a species to be declared recovered given the existence of a single presently secure population. We rebut this interpretation and propose a framework for the conservation of adaptive potential that builds on current agency practice in delineating subspecific recovery units and reconciles the definition of significance in the statute’s “distinct population segment” and “significant portion of range” clauses. Such a coordinated policy would enhance the ESA’s effectiveness in stemming loss of biodiversity in the face of climate change and other factors altering Earth’s ecosystems.
Author(s): CARLOS CARROLL, DANIEL J. ROHLF, BRIDGETT M. VONHOLDT, ADRIAN TREVES, AND SARAH A. HENDRICKS