Endangered Species Act and Biodiversity

All life is connected and worthy of protection.

Endangered Species Day on May 17 provides you and me with an ideal opportunity to appreciate Earth’s biodiversity and to do something to protect it.

A notice in my social media feed led me to finally attempt this post about endangered species and the importance of biodiversity. Until now, I had briefly mentioned the Endangered Species Act in a post entitled Green Legislation – Nixon Administration and touched on biodiversity in Deep Ecology Collaboratory – Join the Movement.

Biodiversity is a huge topic that cannot be adequately covered in a blog post so I will only endeavor to spark your interest to learn more and take action.

In short, biodiversity is the wondrous array of different plants, animals, and other organisms (species) that make life on Earth possible.

Humans are not separate from nature we are part of it. What we do to nature, ill or good, we do to ourselves. Regardless of whether we have named it or not or even know of its existence, each species has a part to play in the overall health of the ecosystems in which they and we live. These ecosystems interconnect across the sphere we all call home.

Why Are Species at Risk Infographic

Why Are Species at Risk? infographic courtesy of Endangered Species Coalition.

When I asked Ted, a deep ecologist and a friend, who he thought did a good job explaining biodiversity, he suggested Edward O. Wilson (see the resources section for books).

It is critically important that we protect endangered species and thus Earth’s biodiversity.

Let’s talk about endangered species.

Endangered Species

During the 1960s and 1970s, Americans took to the streets demanding that Congress address smog, water pollution, pesticides, noise, waste, land use, and wildlife preservation.

President Richard Nixon, not necessarily a fan of regulation, got on board. His Special Message to the Congress Outlining the 1972 Environmental Program makes for interesting reading.

Congress did act passing sweeping environmental legislation including laws like the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and Toxic Substances Control Act.

Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973

When Congress passes a law, they state their findings, purpose, and policy at the beginning and then move on to specific provisions of the law. Below are some excerpts from the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Public Law 93-205).

“The Congress finds and declares that—various species of fish, wildlife, and plants in the United States have been rendered extinct as a consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation…”

“The purposes of this Act are to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved…to provide a program…and to take steps…”

“It is further declared to be the policy of Congress that all Federal departments and agencies shall seek to conserve endangered species and threatened species and shall utilize their authorities in furtherance of the purposes of this Act.

Provisions of the Law

The ESA is jointly administered by two federal agencies based on where the endangered or threatened plant or animal lives, in other words, its habitat or range. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) is responsible for land and freshwater species and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), also known as NOAA Fisheries, is responsible for marine (ocean) species and those that migrate up freshwater streams like salmon.

Through a process called listing, a species must be classified as either endangered or threatened to receive protection under the law. The USFWS or NMFS, an organization, or a person can initiate a listing request.

Endangered – means a species in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Insect pests that present a risk to people are excluded.

Threatened – means a species likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

Once a species makes it to the endangered or threatened list, the USFWS or NMFS are required to develop and implement a plan to help the species recover, which includes conserving its habit.

Repairing the Reef - West Hawaii
Click here for a 5-minute video about coral reefs in Hawaii that shows the importance of restoring habitat.

Increased population over its range is an important measure of whether a species has recovered and can be removed from the list. This process is called delisting. The USFWS and NMFS are required to monitor delisted species for five years to ensure they do not become an endangered or threatened species again.

The ESA mandates cooperation with states and allows states to enact their own laws as long as they are not less restrictive than the federal law. It also supports U.S. involvement in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) that aims to ensure international trade does not threaten the survival of wild animals and plants.

The Environmental Conservation Online System (ECOS) is a tool that enables you to create informational tables by selecting parameters and then clicking on the submit button.

I screened for endangered and threatened species in the U.S. and received a table of 1644 species. It included the western snowy plover, which is endangered where I live in San Luis Obispo County, CA (photo Michael L. Baird).


A search for delisted species in the U.S. gave me a table with 64 species. In a few cases, species were removed because of previous errors. Sadly, some species were delisted because they are extinct like the blue pike, dusky seaside sparrow, and eastern puma.

Robbins Cinquefoil (Potentilla robbinsiana)

Fortunately, most of the species were shown as delisted because they have recovered like the gray whale, Robbins’ cinquefoil (photo USFWS Service), Oregon chub (fish), Lake Erie water snake, and the bald eagle.

Let’s take a look at the gray wolf, which is a species currently undergoing the delisting process.

Gray Wolf– Proposed Endangered Species Delisting

To learn more about gray wolves and their plight, I reached out to Holly. She and I first met while pulling invasive ice plant on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve near my home. I know she is a committed wildlife advocate and she had recently asked me to a sign a petition demanding protection for gray wolves (I did sign it).

Gray wolves are magnificent intelligent and highly social animals. As top-level predators, they play an important part in keeping wild ecosystems healthy.

Gray Wolf (Canis lupus)

Wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in 1995 producing a ripple of positive impacts. For instance, the wolves keep elk herds on the move and in check allowing willow trees to grow. Beavers build dams with some of the trees creating pools in streams for fish and storing water to recharge the water table. Photo Gary Kramer USFWS.

Even before Holly asked me to sign the petition, I had seen the gray wolf delisting notice in the Federal Register. One thing that I read remains fixed in my memory. The greatest threat to wolves is predation by humans, meaning people killing them out of fear, ignorance, or for sport.

I fear that as soon as ESA protections are completely removed from gray wolves human predation will dramatically increase, which will not only harm the wolves but the ecosystems which they help to maintain.

What can you do to help protect gray wolves?

  • Make a public comment on Regulations.gov regarding the USFWS delisting effort. The USFWS just announced they have extended the deadline for public comments to July 15, 2019.
  • Contact your state’s elected officials to let them know you support state-level protection for gray wolves.
  • Join an organization advocating for gray wolves.
  • Learn about gray wolves and share what you learn with your family and friends (see resources section for links).
  • Provide financial support for organizations focused on protecting gray wolves.

Of course, the gray wolf is just one species that we need to protect.

Endangered Species Day Action

I propose an action for Endangered Species Day.

Imagine what we could accomplish if each one of us made a point of learning about one endangered animal or plant species and then did something to protect it. You could share information on social media, write a letter to the editor, call your state senator, make a public comment, or write a check to an advocacy nonprofit. You get the idea.

Here is the comment I submitted about the USFWS plan to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list.

Gray Wolf Delisting Public Comment - L Poppenheimer

Apparently, the United Nations has endangered species and biodiversity on their minds, too, because, on May 6, 2019, they issued a summary of an alarming report about how humans are accelerating the loss of biodiversity and species extinction thereby endangering our own wellbeing and survival. It is worth reading.

Featured Image at Top: Bald eagle in flight at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge – photo credit Tom Koemer, USFWS.

Related Posts

Books about Biodiversity – by Edward O. Wilson

  • Biophilia – published by Harvard University Press, January 13, 1984
  • Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life – published by Liveright, April 4, 2017
  • The Biophilia Hypothesis – published by Shearwater, April 10, 2013
  • The Future of Life – published by Knopf, January 8, 2002
  • Also, see the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation website.

Resources – Gray Wolves

Minimalism – Procrastination

Action begets action.

Once you reach the almost inevitable procrastination phase of becoming a minimalist, accept it and then try taking a small action to overcome your inertia. It worked for me.

Footprint on Earth Globe - Carbon Footprint

People decide to become minimalists living happily with less stuff for a variety of reasons. Mine is the desire to live more lightly on Earth. Take a moment to remind yourself of why you are on your own minimalist quest.

If you are like many if not most aspiring minimalists, you will likely begin by divesting yourself of things you own that you no longer need, want, or use.

Simultaneously, you will probably have to change your shopping and buying habits and perhaps revamp your gift exchanging philosophy. If you don’t, you may find yourself in an infinite loop of acquisition and divestment.

The divestment stage could take you a few weeks or several years. My spouse and I are taking the multi-year approach for a variety of reasons some of which I explained in a previous post entitled Minimalism for Couples – Getting Rid of Stuff. We made a lot of progress in years one and two and then procrastination set in.

Some stuff that we had decided to part ways with somehow began settling into our garage refusing to leave. Worse, I was allowing it to reside there.

Why Do People Procrastinate?

Procrastinators Meeting Postponed Sign

Of course, I am no expert on why people procrastinate, but my impression from reading about the topic over the years is that like many things involving humans, it is complicated.

There are many reasons you might put off doing things that you could or should be doing now. Ramifications for procrastinating vary in severity from significant to none.

For instance, say you are facing a looming deadline for a project at work. You need help but you are embarrassed to ask for it. Stressed out you decide to scroll through your social media feed looking for cat videos and other distracting content. If you miss the deadline, the repercussions could be minor or major. It probably depends on things like the importance of the project, your track record, and your boss’ management style.

Sometimes, dilly-dallying might be considered a good thing.

In this scenario, it is Sunday. Your laundry has piled up to the extent that no one in the family has enough clean socks to make it through next week. Instead of doing the laundry you choose to spend the day with your kids at a nearby park eating a picnic lunch and tossing a Frisbee around. Everyone has a great time. The repercussions are minor. You either do the laundry that night or everyone selects their least dirty pair of socks to wear the next day. (Minimalists do not go out to buy new socks).

For me, having stuff hanging out in my garage was low on the scale of the bad consequences, but once I overcame my inertia, I was able to enjoy the benefits of taking action.

Minimalists Procrastinate, Too

Our garage houses my spouse’s prototype shop, my car, gardening equipment, kayaking gear, and stuff from when our kids were children (another future divestment project). Our garage does not have room to spare.

At least six months ago, we had placed several items for donation in our garage intending to move them out quickly. These consisted of two teak steamer chairs with cushions in excellent condition, a somewhat faded market umbrella with a heavy metal stand, and parts for three multi-tiered wire storage baskets on wheels.

The only space to temporarily stage these items was a 4’ x 4’ space at the front of the garage near the cupboard where I store my gardening tools. With little clearance between the pile and the cupboard, it was not easy to get things out or put them away. (I forgot to photograph the pile.)

Somehow I had gotten it into my head that I wanted these items to go to the nonprofit Habit for Humanity ReStore in the “big” city located about 35 miles from our small town. It was my understanding that a ReStore takes in donated home improvement items and then resells them to the public but I had no idea whether they would accept our items or not.

I said I would find out. I even put it on my “to do” list.

Months later the stuff was still sitting in the garage annoying me every time I wanted to get out a shovel, hoe, or loppers. I kept saying to myself and sometimes to my spouse, “I need to call the ReStore to find out if they will take this stuff.” But, I did not do it.

More time passed until not long ago on a warm day in April, I wrestled my shovel out of the gardening cupboard so I could go dig up some invasive thistles. When I turned around, I looked at the donation pile and sighed for the umpteenth time.

Then it struck me. Someone could be relaxing in one of the steamer chairs right now sipping a cold glass of iced tea under the umbrella—if we had actually donated them.

That was not motivation enough for me to pick up the phone and call the ReStore, however, I did make a note on my calendar for the next Thursday when we would be going into the city to run errands and participate in an SLO Climate Coalition meeting. I thought we could easily swing by the ReStore to ask them if they would take our items.

Habitat Restore in San Luis Obispo, CA

We did stop by the San Luis Obispo South ReStore on the way to the meeting. The friendly gal manning the checkout counter said they would take our things and asked if we could drop them off.

The next Thursday we were scheduled to attend a monthly meeting of the San Luis Obispo chapter of the California Native Plant Society, so I wrote ReStore on my calendar. The afternoon of the meeting we wiped the dust and cobwebs off the items, loaded everything in the back of our 1999 Chevy Tahoe, and headed for the ReStore.

The guy running the store that day was not too happy that we arrived after the volunteers had gone home, but he did seem pleased with our donation items. When he saw the steamer chairs he said, “We can sell these in a heartbeat.”

He asked if we had photos of what the baskets looked like put together. Thanks to my spouse we did. I said I would email the photos the next day (I did).

As we were driving away, I felt relieved and happy. We had cleared out space in our garage but more importantly, it seemed likely that our chairs would soon find a new home with people who would appreciate and use them.

That accomplishment reinvigorated me. Now, I am ready to tackle more divestment tasks.

Overcoming Procrastination

Red Reset Button

Committing to one small action and not trying to tackle the whole project at once made it possible for me to clear up my inaction logjam.

Stopping by the ReStore on the way to somewhere else was easy and it did not necessarily mean I had to do anything further. Fortunately, that step encouraged me to take the next one.

If your minimalism divestment process is stalled, perhaps one or more of the ideas below will help you get moving again.

  • Accept that you have procrastinated.
  • Give yourself a break and do not beat yourself up for not taking action sooner.
  • Imagine your items being used and enjoyed by someone else.
  • Break down the project into smaller parts.
  • Pick an easy thing to do first.

Okay, now it is your turn.

Decide on one small and easy action you can take that would put a dent in your divestment roadblock even just a tiny bit. Then do it. Repeat this process as necessary until your minimalist journey is back on track.

Featured Image at Top: Coffee cup, pen, and a piece of paper with the words “The best way to get something done is to begin” on a wood table top – photo credit iStock/marekuliasz.

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