Like the troubled California condors Gymnogyps californianus (Nature 486, 451; 2012), more than 80% of endangered US species are imperilled by threats that cannot be eliminated, only managed. These species are “conservation reliant” (J.M. Scott et al. Conserv. Lett. 3, 91–97; 2010).

For example, the endangered Kirtland's warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii) has exceeded its recovery goals as a result of control of the brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater), which lays its eggs in warbler nests, and maintenance of warbler habitat through vegetation management. These conservation actions will be required in perpetuity if the species is to avoid extinction. But funding of such management is inadequate for all but the most iconic species, such as the condor.

Society must commit to increased investment in conservation intervention, which will take greater political motivation and broader conservation partnerships than at present. We must begin to prioritize conservation efforts and accept that conservation triage may sometimes be necessary.