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

Global Strike for Future – San Luis Obispo

Young climate activists rock!

Last Friday, I stood near the back of a crowd of students at a Global Strike for Future rally in San Luis Obispo, CA holding a sign that said, “I’m with them.”

My spouse and I arrived late so we naturally ended up at the back of the group. Rather than politely weave in and out of the crowd to get closer to the speaker as I would normally do, I hung back.

This event was not for me (an adult many years out of school). It was for the young people who were striking from school to protest inaction on climate change by the adults that are currently in charge.

I was not even sure if I should be there at all. However, I wanted to show support for the school strikers and you can never have too many people at a rally.

Global Strike for Future Rally in San Luis Obispo, CA on March 15, 2019
Part of the crowd near the end of the Global Strike for Future rally in San Luis Obispo, CA on March 15, 2019. My spouse is holding my sign in the back under the tree while I take photos.

So why were kids striking on a school day?

Fridays for Future Movement

On Monday, August 20, 2018, instead of showing up at school, 15-year-old Greta Thunberg decided to skip school to stand outside the Swedish parliament building holding a sign saying “Skolstrejk för klimatet” (school strike for the climate). She did this every school day until the Swedish general election on September 9, 2018.

After the election, she continued to strike on Fridays protesting the lack of action on the climate crisis. She posted what she was doing and why she was doing it on social media and it went viral. This was the beginning of the #FridaysForFuture movement.

During her 3 ½-minute December 2018 speech at COP24 (the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change) in Katowice, Poland Greta Thunberg put world leaders on notice.

“We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people.”

Young people all over the world have joined the #FridaysForFuture movement.

The day before the Global Strike for Future Greta Thunberg received a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Global Strike for Future

The Global Strike for Future was a worldwide event with student actions occurring on Friday, March 15, 2019, in thousands of cities in over a hundred countries.

From reading news accounts and social media feeds it appears that hundreds of thousands and maybe even more than a million kids took time off from school to demand that world leaders live up to the Paris Climate Agreement and take action to keep global warming below 1.5° (C).

Sure, these kids could hold rallies and marches after school or on weekends but it would not be nearly as impactful. I think the civil disobedience aspect of skipping school as well as the sheer number of kids doing it is what is making the world take notice.

San Luis Obispo Rally

I first heard about the San Luis Obispo Global Strike for Future events when Brandon O’Rourke showed up at the March 7 SLO Climate Coalition meeting. He told us that students at several schools would be striking and that a student rally was going to be held outside the courthouse.

By the next day, Brandon O’Rourke, Tara Hale, Carmen Bouquin, Noel Clark, Erika Wilson had posted an event page on social media with more specifics. They posted updates during the week. That is how I knew when and where to show up for the rally.

The organizers held a sign-making party for students and had signs available at the rally. I recycled my Women’s March sign with materials I printed from the FridaysForFuture website.

During the rally, there were speakers, chants, and singing. The crowd was mostly young people with a few older people like me sprinkled here and there.

Luke Dunn at Global Strike for Future in San Luis Obispo, CA

Luke Dunn took the microphone for a couple of minutes and invited participants to join the SLO Climate Coalition, which is a community group working to create a carbon-free San Luis Obispo city and county.

As the rally was wrapping up, I took the opportunity to talk with a few people and take photos. Unfortunately, I accidentally deleted the note in my smartphone with their names (sigh).

A follow-up session was scheduled for Sunday at a local park to give the students an opportunity to debrief and talk about the next actions.

What Can You Do?

I was heartened to see local young people taking an interest in keeping Earth habitable for themselves and everyone else. We are all in this together, now.

School protests related to climate change may be a relatively new phenomenon but students have been making their voices heard on and off campus for decades.

For instance, the 1970 Earth Day teach-ins held at thousands of schools across the United States energized the environmental movement and led to the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency and far-reaching legislation like the Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and Endangered Species Act.

People in the streets demanding action get things done. That includes kids.

Having kids participate in school strikes can present challenges like ensuring everyone’s safety, making up for missed classes, and respecting kids that do not want to strike. This is an opportunity for older people to help the younger generation become active members of society.

Let’s engage our kids and work with them to enable them to make their voices heard, be safe, and get their homework done. Here are a few thought starters.

  • Support actions kids want to take.
  • Help kids and schools with logistics.
  • Provide transportation.
  • Give financial support.
  • Be a mentor.
  • Host a sign making party.
  • Rent or loan audio/visual equipment.
  • Provide a meeting place.
  • Offer your expertise.
  • Spread the word.

I am looking forward to what these young climate activists do next.

Featured Image at Top: Global Strike for Future Logo.

Related Posts

Resources