The Rhetoric of Delisting Species Under the Endangered Species Act: How to Declare Victory Without Winning the War

Posted: 29 Jan 2007

See all articles by Federico Cheever

Federico Cheever

University of Denver Sturm College of Law (deceased)


The recovery and delisting of species protected under the Endangered Species Act is the coming fashion and no mistake. This spring many of us followed with interest the nesting trevails of California condors in California and Arizona as the birds endeavored to lay the foundations for a comeback. At the same time, we watched with mixed feelings building pressure to delist gray wolves and the announced delisting of the Aleutian Canada geese. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has committed itself to recovery as the goal for its species protection program. Unfortunately, under the provisions of the law and the logic of politics there is great pressure to measure the success of recovery efforts in terms of species delisting. Recovery may have the power to transform the popular image of the Endangered Species Act from a statute about stopping development into a statute about preserving species. However, only delisting can, in theory, decouple protection of biodiversity from the much maligned business of getting government permits and dealings with federal officials.

Like it or not, the common notions of recovery and delisting - bringing species to the point at which they are so numerous and so well distributed in sufficient quantities of perpetually secure habitat that the protections provided by the Endangered Species Act become unnecessary - will not become a realistic aspiration for any significant number of species any time in the foreseeable future. Yet there is political pressure to "show results" by declaring species recovered and removing them from the lists of protected species. Can the federal government emphasize species recovery and delisting in the face of collapsing global ecosystems? The answer, of course, is yes. The real question is how.

Suggested Citation

Cheever, Federico, The Rhetoric of Delisting Species Under the Endangered Species Act: How to Declare Victory Without Winning the War. Environmental Law Reporter, Vol. 31, 2001, Available at SSRN:

Federico Cheever (Contact Author)

University of Denver Sturm College of Law (deceased) ( email )

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