On the topic of strategic prioritization, or ‘species triage’

It’s easy to misrepresent the field of species prioritization. It’s often tempting to purport that some scientists are advocating for extinction. A few facts:
  • There is a clear link between funding and recovering endangered species. Wildlife conservation is grossly underfunded.
  • If we are not going to fully fund efforts to recover all endangered species, then it is important to allocate funds to achieve the greatest good.
  • A transparent approach designed with costs and other values built in will help us allocate recovery funds to save more species.
  • Each choice to fund the protection of one species comes with the consequence of sending unfunded species closer to extinction. Opponents of prioritization just pretend that is not the case by hiding the fact that there is a choice.
Stories that focus on “triage” of species make it sound like those who advance strategic prioritization are in favor of letting species go extinct. As a conservation biologist I would never be a proponent of letting any species go extinct – I don’t know any conservation biologists who are. Researchers and managers who use priorization are focused on just the opposite – saving as many species as possible. The debate about prioritization often focuses on one or another “poster animal” to illustrate the concept. But even if conservation of that animal is working perfectly (i.e. spending millions of dollars is leading to recovery on track and on time), there is a cost to other species, which are being pushed toward extinction because of the choice to invest in that “poster animal.” In other words, the choice to fund one species’ conservation is itself a choice to choose extinction for other species. Species prioritization is about making that trade-off transparent and having people own up to it. It is up to society to decide if we want to allocate recovery funds to slow the rate of decline for highly endangered taxa, or to put those resources towards recovering a larger number of species that are more likely to recover.