‘We the People’ Do a Better Job of Picking Endangered Species than the Government

An endangered whooping crane
An endangered whooping crane John Null, USDA

Crowdsourcing threatened and endangered species listings turns out to be more efficient than relying solely on the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency that oversees the Endangered Species Act.

Citizen scientists, nature lovers and non-governmental researchers can petition for a species’ listing as threatened or endangered. While the US FWS is only one agency with finite resources, citizens bring a diverse array of knowledge and viewpoints to the conservation front.

To figure out that citizens out-perform the government on this task, biologist Berry Brosi from Emory University and Eric Biber, an environmental law professor from the University of California, Berkeley, built a database of over 900 “threatened” and “endangered” species listings since 1986, and sorted them according to whether citizens or the US FWS proposed them. Their results showed that citizens are more likely to raise awareness about species whose habitats conflict with development projects, but that those species are often the significantly more threatened ones, too.

“The overriding message is that citizen involvement really does work in combination with the oversight of the FWS,” Brosi says. “It’s a two-step system of checks and balances that is important to maintain.”

More from Smithsonian.com:

Nine Species Saved From Extinction 

Black Footed Ferrets and Other Endangered Critters 

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