There are multiple ways of thinking about endangered species classification

To protect and recover species, most countries have laws that mandate particular actions when species are classified as threatened or endangered. These classifications can have an enormous impact on industries that impinge on the species in question, for example the declaration of northern spotted owls as endangered led to large-scale shutdowns in logging on old-growth forests. This process of classifying a species as threatened, endangered, or neither constitutes a difficult decision, and difficult decisions can usefully be approached using the theory and tools of decision analysis. In the analysis of a decision, framing the decision correctly is key: we are better off when we are precise in defining the decision to be made, as it helps everyone involved and invested to be on the same page. The perspective of policy makers (“framing”) around whether to declare species as threatened or endangered has substantial influence on the final decision, and a new paper outlines five possible ways in which this can occur. (1) Putting species in the correct bin: applies scientific methods to decide if the species falls below specified thresholds. (2) Doing right by the species over time, which adds a dimension of future time to the decision. (3) Saving as many species as possible given budget limits, which requires classifying suites of species at the same time to ensure the best possible trade-offs. (4) Weighing extinction risk against economic or social objectives, thus explicitly balancing costs and rewards of classification. (5) Strategic aims to advance conservation goals, thus requiring negotiation as an integral part of classification. Policy makers that are clear about which framing they are using will make decisions that are easier to defend, reduce confusion, and minimize conflict, as well as leading to closer collaboration with scientists. The new paper authored by Jonathan Cummings and others at the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was coauthored by SAFS professor Sarah Converse, and appears in the journal Conservation Biology.

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