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Director's Corner

Meet Service Director Dan Ashe.

Conservation is Strong on this 44th Earth Day

Earth Day founder Senator Gaylord Nelson told President Kennedy in 1963 that while the public is “aware that all around them, here and there, outdoor assets are disappearing, they really don’t see the awful dimension of the catastrophe” that prominent conservationists of that time, such as Rachel Carson, were pointing out.

In 1969, after a devastating oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, Senator Nelson had an idea: a teach-in on the environment; and on April 22, 1970, Earth Day began.

Boy, did the country learn. 

The years after the first Earth Day saw the passage of many major environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act in 1973.

Nestucca Bay NWR beckons in this photo from 2009. Credit: USFWS

So, on each Earth Day anniversary, we momentarily pause in our individual and societal quests for greater affluence and give thanks for the many blessings of a healthy environment: clean drinking water; rivers, lakes and oceans that are swimmable and fishable; air that is breathable; open spaces that support outdoor recreation and a vibrant recreation economy; habitat that provides protection from storms and floods … the list goes on.


Wolf Numbers across the Northern Rocky Mountains Hold Steady

In 2011 and 2012, we concluded that gray wolves were no longer in danger of extinction in the Northern Rocky Mountains and removed them from the Endangered Species List. At that point we handed the management reins over to the states, and both we and they have taken a lot of heat ever since. That is why I was so happy to see that in 2013 the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population held steady.

Gray wolf. Photo by Tracy Brooks/Mission Wolf/USFWS

As of December 31, there were at least 78 breeding pairs and 1,691 wolves across the Northern Rocky Mountain area. That is a modest decline in pairs from 2012 and a very slight decline in total numbers, but when you consider the margin of error in trying to survey all wolves across this vast area, the wolf population hasn’t really changed a bit. The numbers are news to celebrate, especially with minimum management targets at the much-lower 45 breeding pairs and 450 wolves. 


We’re Listing it as Threatened, But States, Partnerships Will Conserve Lesser Prairie-Chicken

We have determined that the lesser prairie-chicken warrants listing as a threatened species.  

lesser prairie chicken

The lesser prairie-chicken inhabits areas of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. Credit: Greg Kramos/USFWS

A “threatened” listing means the species is likely to become in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future. It allows us to ensure the bird’s protection while providing some measure of flexibility in implementing measures under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). 

The ongoing drought and past habitat loss and fragmentation throughout the chicken’s range of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas have devastated the species – the 2013 estimate had the population at 17,616 birds, almost 50 percent fewer than 2012. 

We first identified the lesser prairie-chicken as a candidate for federal protection under the ESA in 1998, and since then, have worked with the states, federal agencies, conservation organizations, landowners and other partners to protect the species’ habitat and address the threats it faces. 


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