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Director's Corner

Meet Service Director Dan Ashe.

Endangered Species Act: Hope for the Underdog

On December 28, 1973, the United States made a historic commitment.

On that day, President Richard Nixon signed into law the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a bipartisan declaration that we would do our absolute best to conserve the nation’s rich diversity of wild life no matter how seemingly insignificant.

manateeWest Indian manatees are widely distributed throughout the South during summer months, with sightings in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. Photo by Tracy Colson/USFWS

Thanks to the now 40-year-old ESA we can see success in icons of the wild-life world: Bald eagles and peregrine falcons soar above; gray wolves prowl the Rocky Mountains, Great Lakes and Pacific Northwest; manatees grace the coastal waters of the Gulf and South Atlantic; wild salmon and steelhead continue their annual migratory rituals. Virtually every corner of our nation can take pride in being part of the recovery process sparked by the ESA.

But it is also clear that back in 1973, the legislators under- stood Aldo Leopold’s admonishment that the essence of intelligent tinkering is to save all the pieces. And so, the ESA they wrote has also recovered lesser-known species like the Magazine Mountain shagreen snail, Tennessee purple coneflower, karner blue butterfly and Higgins eye pearlymussel.

While the ESA often provides the spark, the future of imperiled wild life depends more on us.

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Interior, Agriculture and Defense Departments Conserve Wildlife Habitat Near Military Bases

Streaked horn larkThe streaked horn lark is just one species that will be helped by the first Sentinel Landscapes project. Photo by David Maloney

You may not think of it right away, but the U.S. military is an important partner in conservation.  Many military bases include thousands of acres of prime habitat for wildlife, and we and other federal agencies have increasingly worked hand-in-hand with our armed services on conservation projects that ensure military readiness is maintained.

In May, for example, we honored Navy Base Coronado in California for its successful management of  nesting areas used by the endangered California least tern and threatened western snowy plover and for its conservation efforts on San Clemente Island to remove non-native species and help wildlife recover – all this in addition to the base’s main job of protecting our nation.

Today, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell joined Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Defense Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Installations and Environment John Conger to announce the Sentinel Landscapes program, an initiative designed to conserve wildlife habitat in areas around military bases.

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We Need Farmers’ Conservation Stewardship

Before we had an Endangered Species Act, or indeed a conservation movement, farmers, ranchers and other private landowners were the ones caring for the land and managing habitat for wild life. And we need to keep these working families on the land they’ve stewarded for generations.

Farm A farm field at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland. Photo by USFWS

That is why I was so glad to talk with the folks at the American Farm Bureau Federation last week.

I am deeply concerned about the world’s growing population and how more land, water and resources for people mean less for wild life.

We also know that almost 75 percent of the land in this country is privately owned, and many of the species we care for depend on private land for a significant part of their habitat.

So we must help working families protect and sustain wild life in ways that enable them to continue making a living from the land.

This is not easy.

Conservation is about restraint. If we want wild life in certain areas, we have to make a conscious decision to make a space for them in the landscape. 

That means sacrifice because we have less land available for other purposes.

But it does not mean completely giving up the economic benefits of the land.

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