A new study published in Science by Brosi and Biber compares species listed under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA) in response to citizen petitions versus initiatives from within the agencies (FWS and NMFS). The authors asked whether citizen involvement, as some claim, diverts scarce conservation resources to species which are at lower risk than those identified by the agencies. The authors found, on the contrary, that species listed in response to citizen petitions were at least as threatened as those proposed by the agencies. These findings support the wisdom of the drafters of the ESA, who included the ability of citizens to petition for species’ listing to help ensure that species are not overlooked in the listing process due to political concerns or other reasons.
As the New York Times notes, “These impressive statistical results also help restate — and re-ratify — the reason the authors of the Endangered Species Act included the public in the first place. There are a lot more of us than there are Fish and Wildlife Service scientists. And the petitioning public isn’t merely an amorphous cross section of Americans. It includes scientists, local specialists, committed conservationists and passionate defenders of nature, who, in many cases, can keep a closer eye on the ground than the Fish and Wildlife Service.”
Science Daily also noted “The public brings diffuse and specialized expertise to the table, from devoted nature enthusiasts to scientists who have spent their whole careers studying one particular animal, insect or plant. Public involvement can also help counter the political pressure inherent in large development projects. The FWS, however, is unlikely to approve the listing of a species that is not truly threatened or endangered, so some petitions are filtered out. “You could compare it to the trend of crowdsourcing that the Internet has spawned,” Brosi says. “It’s sort of like crowdsourcing what species need to be protected.”