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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- A Sand County Almanac – Book Review
- Deep Ecology Collaboratory – Join the Movement
- Find it in the Federal Register – Government Transparency
- Green Legislation – Nixon Administration
- Make Your Voice Heard on Regulations.gov
- Mother Nature Needs Our Help – Let’s Plant Trees
- Native Plants Add Beauty and Habitat to Your Yard
- Organic Food – Healthy Soil is Good for the Environment
- Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy – Book Review
- Silent Spring – Book Review
- The Legacy of Luna – Book Review
- Voice of the River – Book Review
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
- America’s Gray Wolves – Center for Biological Diversity
- Court Ruling Aids Wolves’ Return to California – by Jessica A. Knoblauch, Earthjustice, 02/13/19
- Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removing the Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) – U.S. Federal Register, 03/15/19
- Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) Species Profile – U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
- Gray Wolf – WildEarth Guardians
- Help Wolves – Sierra Club Headwaters Group
- Study document’s wolves’ role transforming Yellowstone – by David Frey, The Wildlife Society, 11/02/18
- The Fight for Northern Rocky Gray Wolves – Earthjustice