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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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Like Pumpkin Pie? At Thanksgiving We Need to Thank Pollinators

Pumpkin pie is a standard at Thanksgiving dinners around the country, and why not? It is delicious.

Did you realize, though, that without bees to pollinate the pumpkins, our traditional dessert would not be. And without pollinators like bees, bats, birds and butterflies, we could pretty much say goodbye to chocolate, coffee and almonds. Equally scarce would be most fruits and vegetables.

About 75 percent of the world’s food crops and native plants rely on pollinators to produce fruits and seeds. In the United States alone, insect pollinators contributed to more than $29 billion of crops in 2010.

Pollinators are just as important to sustaining functioning ecosystems and food for wildlife. Fruits and seeds derived from insect pollination are a major part of the diet of birds and mammals, ranging from red-backed voles to grizzly bears.

Squash bees

Some bees are specialists that only pollinate certain plants. This squash bee works the Cucurbita crops—squash and pumpkins. Photo courtesy of Nancy Adamson and the Xerces Society via the Department of Agriculture

But pollinators are at risk from habitat loss, improper pesticide use and introduced diseases.

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Native Americans are Key to the Future of Conservation

Indian country encompasses some of the most important and untrammeled land left in the country. More than 100 million acres, stewarded by people who understand the value of their natural heritage with the land.

Penobscot Indian Nation Elder Butch Phillips continues the traditional smudging ceremony.Penobscot Indian Nation Elder Butch Phillips performs a traditional smudging ceremony for purification before the July breaching of the Veazie Dam on the Penobscot River in Maine. Credit: Meagan Racey/USFWS

But even 100 million acres isn’t enough, if they are fragmented and separated from the lands around them.  Wildlife doesn’t recognize the boundaries of federal, state, Tribal or private lands.  We can’t either.

We are celebrating Native American Heritage Month in November, and Native Americans must be part of the conservation decision-making.  They deserve no less, and the stakes -– the very future of the wild things and wild places we all hold dear -– are too great not to welcome a key partner to the table.

In 2013, I asked our programs and regions to develop innovative ways we can work with Tribes.  And the Service put $1 million to begin this venture.

We are working to rewrite the Native American Policy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, so we partnered with a highly respected council of Tribal representatives to guide us.  The new policy will help guide and promote better working relationships with Native American Tribes and Alaska Natives.

Earlier this year, we awarded $4 million in Tribal Wildlife Grants to 23 Tribes in 14 states.  Through this program, more than $60 million has provided support for more than 360 conservation projects administered by participating federally recognized Tribes. 

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Last updated: August 31, 2011