Protecting the American Peregrine Falcon

Under the Endangered Species Act:

Will Downlisting Work?


Cindy A. E. Moore



This paper evaluates the reclassification process under the Endangered Species Act as it relates to the Alaska population of the endangered American Peregrine Falcon. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to reclassify this subspecies from endangered to threatened before the close of 1995. While a recovery plan is in place for the American Peregrine, questions remain about how much continued protection the downlisting will provide.


From the mid-1950s to the early 1970s, the peregrine falcon population declined rapidly throughout the United States (and in many other countries) due to the widespread use of the pesticide DDT. The ingestion of DDT-contaminated prey caused eggshell thinning and consequent breeding failure during that time period. It was realized in the late 1960s that DDT was killing several bird populations throughout the nation and the world. In 1972, DDT was finally banned.


The effect of DDT on Alaskan peregrines was severe. The American Peregrine population plummeted substantially, causing the raptor to disappear in some areas altogether. When the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973, the American Peregrine Falcon was one of the first species to be listed as endangered. Since that time peregrine falcons have made a remarkable comeback, surpassing all population predictions in Alaska. As a result, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has informally proposed reclassifying the American Peregrine from endangered to threatened.


Although the American Peregrine is prepared for downlisting, it is unclear how much protection the raptor will receive once it is reclassified. The fact that only 22 species have been removed from the endangered species list (six for reasons of full recovery) and only eleven species have been reclassified from endangered to threatened, illustrates the limited experience the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has in the area of down- and delisting.


Beginning with a comprehensive description of the Endangered Species Act and continuing with a look at history, biology and behavior of the American Peregrine population in Alaska, this paper analyzes the current system of recovery, the proposed recovery plan and the Alaska peregrines' likelihood of survival. External influences and political ramifications are also considered.


The paper concludes with a look at how politics, budgets, land use, and popularity of a species influences the changes of recovery. In the case of the American Peregrine, the raptors' combination of popularity and special interest support make successful recovery seem likely. The peregrines do not impact land use, and live in a vast wilderness during the spring and summer months, the majority of which is rarely frequented by man. This has allowed the American Peregrine to thrive. It appears that the American Peregrine population in Alaska has made enough progress, and has enough factors in its favor, to allow recovery to continue, even with minimal or no outside help.