Braiding Indigenous Rights and Endangered Species Law

Clayton Lamb
Roland Willson
Allyson Menzies
Naomi Owens-Beek
Michael Price
Scott McNay
Sarah Otto
Mateen Hessami
Jesse Popp
Mark Hebblewhite
Adam Ford
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Endangered species laws effectively prevent species extinction but fall short in restoring abundance for culturally important species. Legal agreements between Indigenous peoples and countries recognize the importance of abundant, culturally important species that disproportionately contribute to peoples’ food, material, spirituality, and sense of place. Despite this, recovery targets under endangered species laws do not account for such abundance, instead targeting minimum viable population (MVP) sizes that leave many species in a state of reduced abundance compared with their historical baselines. Using three keystone species in North America—caribou, bison, and salmon—we explore the implications of the gap between culturally meaningful abundance and minimum viable populations and argue for the need to establish recovery targets and processes that restore abundance beyond MVPs. Braiding endangered species law and Indigenous rights will help countries uphold the rights of Indigenous peoples, prevent species extinction, and ultimately provide benefits to society at large.