Funding Inequities in Endangered Species Recovery


Government data reveals that a large percentage of the $1.2 billion annual spending for endangered and threatened species is allocated to just a few species, leaving many others neglected as they face potential extinction.

Disparities in Funding Allocation

Since the enactment of the Endangered Species Act, over 1,700 U.S. species have been listed as threatened or endangered. However, an analysis of federal government data shows that approximately $600 million, half of the $1.2 billion annual spending, goes towards the recovery of only two types of fish: salmon and steelhead trout on the West Coast. Tens of millions of dollars are allocated to well-recognized animals like manatees, right whales, grizzly bears, and spotted owls. This disproportionate distribution leaves many other imperiled species neglected and at risk of extinction.

Neglected Species

The Virginia fringed mountain snail, for instance, had only $100 spent on its recovery in 2020, despite being rarely seen over the past three and a half decades. More than 200 imperiled plants, animals, fish, and other creatures received no funding at all. As climate change exacerbates threats to various organisms, many of the species qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act but are not receiving the necessary conservation efforts due to funding disparities.

Spending Disparities Across Biological Kingdoms

An Associated Press analysis of 2020 data uncovered that 67% of the spending was allocated to fish, with the majority supporting salmon and steelhead populations in the western states. Mammals received 7% of the funding, while birds and plants obtained about 5% and 2% respectively. Insects received a meager 0.5% of the budget. Notably, species like stoneflies in Montana, the California tiger salamander, and various flowering plants received no funding despite facing substantial threats.

Historical Context and Political Pressures

The funding disparities are deeply rooted, stemming from a blend of biological realities and political influences. The substantial investment in restoring salmon and steelhead populations is attributed to the extensive challenges posed by their habitat and the political support from various interest groups. Additionally, the initially limited protection for plants under the Endangered Species Act reflects the lack of political influence and nearly excluded the entire plant kingdom from the legislation.

Impacts and Possible Solutions

Insufficient funding for many species is consequential, as research indicates that species receiving less than the required funding have higher risks of decline. While some suggest redirecting resources from over-funded species to neglected ones, others argue that the primary issue is the inadequacy of overall funding for endangered species recovery. With the increasing number of species qualifying for protection and limited resources, the urgency for strategic and impactful action to prevent extinctions is mounting.

Efforts and Challenges

Efforts are being made to address these issues, with the recent climate law signed by President Joe Biden allocating significant funding for the recovery of endangered species. This includes hiring biologists and funding recovery projects for diverse species, aiming to provide relief to the underfunded groups such as plants, butterflies, moths, and freshwater mussels. However, challenges persist, such as outdated recovery plans for numerous species and a shortage of environmental review staff within the agencies.