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.

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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

Dark Money – Book Review

Stand up for our democracy or it will cease to exist.

Dark Money is the book you do not want to read that you must read if you care about the Earth and the people who live on it.

Not long ago, I was wandering through the non-fiction book aisles in the San Luis Obispo Library scanning the shelves for interesting books. I occasionally use this random approach to book selection because it enables me to spot books that are worth reading that may not be on my “to read” list.

Dark Money: the Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, by Jane Mayer, published January 19, 2016, is one of those books.

The first thing that caught my attention was that there were three copies of the book sitting on the shelf. That seemed significant because the Library is well stocked but not big.

Dark Money Book Cover


The dark blue book spines were emblazoned with the title Dark Money in gold lettering and the Great Seal of the United States had been modified to show the bald eagle holding a bag of money instead of an olive branch in its right talon.

Intrigued I pulled the book off the shelf, read the book jacket text, and scanned the table of contents. It did indeed seem like a dark book to read, but an important one so I checked it out.

Book Review

Essentially Dark Money is a history of how, beginning in the 1970s, a small group of billionaires, spearheaded by Charles and David Koch and a few others has been systematically taking control of the U.S. federal government and infiltrating state governments.

What is their mission? They claim to be libertarians who believe in small government, liberty, and freedom for all Americans.

However, their actions tell a different story.

Readers you are about to embark on a journey through the hidden world of money in politics as Jane Mayer unravels thousands of threads that lead to the organizations who shield their billionaire donors that call the shots.

Dark Money unfolds in three parts.

  • Part One: Weaponizing Philanthropy: The War of Ideas, 1970-2008
  • Part Two: Secret Sponsors: Covert Operations, 2009-2010
  • Part Three: Privatizing Politics: Total Combat, 2011-2014

You will read about the corruption of think tanks and academia and the true nature of organizations with innocuous sounding names like the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

Mayer will show you how the Tea Party is not a spontaneous grassroots movement, but a calculated and far-reaching campaign funded by dark money.

She will describe the dark money clan’s attempt to give themselves an image makeover in hopes that the American public will view these ruthless billionaires as people who care about them.

The Bottom Line

Jane Mayer is an award-winning investigative journalist and author. She has been writing for The New Yorker since 1995 covering politics, culture, and national security.

Mayer’s August 23, 2010, news article in The New Yorker entitled “Covert Operations” provided an impetus for her to write Dark Money.

She conducted hundreds of interviews over a five-year period, many on the record, but not all because some people feared reprisals. She also read books, new stories, and studies, which are documented in the extensive notes section at the back of the book.

The material covered is both detailed and complex. Mayer did an excellent job making the book readable and I think accessible to a wide audience.

While reading the book, I was disturbed and outraged. I did not want to accept that a handful of ultra-wealthy American citizens were willing to sacrifice our democracy and destroy the wellbeing of hundreds of millions of people and the environment we all live in 24/7/365.

There were times when I wanted to stop reading Dark Money and return it to the library. But I persevered because I feel it is my duty as a human being and a mother to look the darkness in the face and then do something about it.

After reading Dark Money, I realized how naive I had been. I used to say off the cuff things like, “Corporations own the government.” or “Money buys elections.” without really understanding the full ramifications of what that means. Now, I do.

What Can You Do?

When faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem, the urge to turn away is strong. I understand I feel like that a lot. The thing is that you have a choice to take action or not.

Here are just a few ideas of things you can do.

  • Read Dark Money and discuss it with your family and friends.
  • Vote in every election for every office and every ballot measure.
  • Make the effort to be an informed voter.
  • Help get people to the polls.
  • Support campaign finance reform.

If we do not stand up for ourselves, the dark money crowd will truly own our country.

Featured Image at Top: Inequality and power imbalance are represented by chess pieces on a scale – photo credit iStock/tifonimages.

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