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

Arbor Day 2019 – Let’s Plant Trees

For the love of trees.

This Arbor Day, or any day, plant a tree in honor of a tree you have loved or love now. If you, I, and everyone else did this, we could reforest Earth.

There are infinite reasons that people love trees. Here are a few of my own.

When I visit a park on a hot sunny day, the tree with the biggest canopy providing the most shade draws me towards it. I stand in awe when I spot a majestic hawk perched on a branch in a Monterey pine tree outside my dining room window. The memory of biting into fresh juicy peaches that I picked from the trees in our back yard when I was a kid is still fresh in my mind. Watching the birds flit from tree to tree in our yard in a dizzying pattern is always entertaining. When I look up at the giant trees in a redwood forest, I feel a sense of wonder and peace.

Redwood Trees in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park - August, 2013
I took this photo of the majestic redwood trees in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park during a trip with my family to California’s redwood coast in August 2013.

Pause here for a few minutes to envision the trees in your own life.

Before we talk more about trees, perhaps an Arbor Day history refresher would be helpful.

Arbor Day and Its Founder

This year, Arbor Day is even more fun for me because last September I visited Nebraska City, Nebraska, the home of Arbor Day, with two wonderful long-time friends. I also recently finished reading a biography written by James C. Olson about its founder J. Sterling Morton.

J. Sterling Morton

Julius Sterling Morton, called J. Sterling Morton so as not be confused with his father Julius Dewey Morton, was born on April 22, 1832, and lived to be 70. He grew up in Monroe, Michigan. At 22, he and his new wife Caroline Joy French headed to the wide-open plains of Nebraska where Morton hoped to become famous and wealthy.

During his life, Morton was a farmer, newspaper editor, political candidate, railroad lobbyist, and did a brief stint as the acting Governor for the Territory of Nebraska. He was a staunch believer that Nebraska could and should be an agricultural powerhouse. Planting both fruit and forest trees were essential to his mission.

Morton and his tree-planting advocacy led to the first Arbor Day on Wednesday, April 10, 1872, in Nebraska. Now, almost 150 years later, tree enthusiasts all over the world plant trees for Arbor Day.

J Sterling Morton Sitting in a Chair in Washington, DC - April 25, 1895

This photo shows J. Sterling Morton sitting in a chair in his office in Washington, D.C. on April 25, 1895, during his tenure as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture during President Grover Cleveland’s administration.

Photo courtesy of The Morton Arboretum.

During his four years as Secretary, Morton endeavored to bring fiscal responsibility to the Department of Agriculture and he did. He was also responsible for expanding the number of jobs classified as civil service to ensure operational continuity when a new president came into office and appointed new leadership.

In 1898, Morton founded a weekly newspaper called The Conservative, which kept him active and writing until the end of his life in 1902.

My impression of J. Sterling Morton is that he was opinionated, ambitious, stubborn, loyal, and honest. He was a Democrat and a racist that dearly loved his wife and family.

Arbor Day Farm and Arbor Lodge

Nowadays, Arbor Day Farm is a tourist attraction with orchards, outdoor trails, and year-round events. The grounds contain a greenhouse, tree shipping operation, movie theater, gift shop, and a cafe. The day we visited, it was sunny and hot. An apple cider float from the cafe tasted delicious and was delightfully cool.

Nearby, we toured Arbor Lodge where J. Sterling Morton and his wife Caroline raised four sons and farmed on 160 acres of land.

Reading the biography was interesting because it gave me a glimpse of life on the Nebraska frontier in the mid to late 19th century as seen through the eyes of Morton. It was entertaining, too, mostly because I have actually visited some of the places referred to in the book.

For instance, my friends and I stayed in Bellevue, where Morton and his wife lived for several months when they first arrived from Michigan. We also visited Omaha the site of much of the political intrigue in the book

The first house built by the Morton’s was more or less a log cabin. They serially remodeled the house into a stately mansion they called Arbor Lodge. My friends and I took a guided tour through Arbor Lodge, which is now a museum and historical state park. We walked around the study where Morton wrote his letters, speeches, and newspaper articles. Many of these provided reference material for the James C. Olson book I spotted in the tiny gift shop area and bought.

Besides spending time with my friends and meeting a bison face-to-face, the highlight of the trip for me was visiting Arbor Day Farm and Arbor Lodge.

I hope you feel more informed about Arbor Day and its founder J. Sterling Morton. Now, let’s talk trees.

Monterey Pine Seedling Project

My Arbor Day 2019 celebration began in February when I planted twenty Monterey pine tree seedlings in my yard, which is in the midst of a beautiful yet struggling Monterey pine forest. I recounted the planting experience in the post, entitled Mother Nature Needs Our Help – Let’s Plant Trees. In this post, we will look at how the seedlings are doing two months later and how I dealt with unanticipated challenges that I probably should have anticipated.

I knew I would need to regularly check on the seedlings and water them during their first year or so of living in their new locations. We have no irrigation system so that means me making numerous trips around the yard carrying a 2-gallon watering can full of water.

While I was planting the seedlings, I realized that I would need some kind of a marker to put near the seedlings or I might never be able to find them again once the wild grasses grew over a foot tall. Here the grass will get to be four to six feet tall so you can probably imagine the problem of trying to spot a tiny, also green, tree seedling amidst a sea of grass.

My spouse offered to make some markers but we could not find any suitable material on hand. We purchased four-foot long slender bamboo poles at our local nursery. My spouse attached little pieces of cloth from a worn out t-shirt on the top of each pole to act like a flag.

In early March, we walked around the yard to the areas that we knew we had planted the seedlings in groups and tapped a marker into the soil beside each one. Unfortunately, we were not able to locate one of the seedlings so we were down to nineteen.

Next, it occurred to me that the seedlings might appreciate some breathing room from the competing grasses so I decided to weed a small circle around each one and then spread wood chips to help keep moisture in the soil. My spouse and I hand weeded and used the smaller of our two weed whackers to clear space around the seedlings.

One of the seedlings had an accident so now we were down to eighteen.

Fortunately, I spotted this tiny seedling volunteering to grow in our yard near some of the other seedlings we had planted so we adopted it into the fold. Now we are back to nineteen seedlings.

Whew, we could sit back and relax.

Not long after, one day as I was admiring the grasses waving in the wind, I realized that even if I could spot the flags, I would have to bushwhack my way through the grasses carrying 16 pounds of water every time I gave the tree seedlings a drink.

This time we cracked out the big electric weed whacker to clear paths through the now 4-foot tall grasses. The tree seedlings seem happy.

Okay, now we can sit back and relax until it is time to make the rounds again with the watering can.

Earth Day and Arbor Day Combined

Just yesterday, at an Earth Day event in our town I met up with Rick Hawley from Greenspace, again. He is the guy I met at the January Cambria Forest Committee meeting that led to our Monterey pine tree seedling project. At the meeting, he was displaying a rack of 98 itsy bitsy seedlings he had grown from seeds. I coveted them.

Now, I have my own rack of 98 Monterey pine seeds I just planted. I hope they will all germinate and grow into seedlings for planting in a nearby forest area that needs trees.

Rack of Monterey Pine Seeds Planted at Earth Day Event - April 21, 2019
These 98 tubes filled with soil and one Monterey pine tree seed each are now in my care until November when the other seedling growers and I will gather to plant them.

The native plants that I am growing from seeds welcomed their new friends onto the deck outside our dining room.

Of course, you can choose to celebrate Arbor Day however, you wish. I hope you will join millions of tree huggers and me who are demonstrating our love of trees and people by planting tree seeds, seedlings, and trees in our yards, parks, and forests.

Featured Image at Top: The Morton Oak, the lone survivor of what was once an oak savanna. This photo and the photos of Arbor Lodge and Arbor Day Farm are courtesy of Arbor Day Farm.

Related Posts

Resources