Two Day’s Knowledge of the
Endangered Species Act

First day on the job, I got a cubicle to work in, and a stack of papers to fill out. Yeah, I know, doesn’t sound too exciting- but this was my summer plan: Go into the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Sacramento Office for work experience- you know the kind, the kind that every pre-college student looks for to fill up their applications.

You know? It wasn’t too bad- for the first day. I got introduced to some of the employees, took some online training, and then started on research to write stories just like this one. I felt pretty good to be working.

Day 2 on the job as a summer intern for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
I got out of the cube and into the field to learn how to find and
identify the endangered California Tiger Salamander.
Photo Credit: Sarah Swenty/USFWS

My second day was a lot different. On Tuesday, June 12, 2012, I found myself with a group of employees going out to the field for some hands-on education on California tiger salamanders (CTS), one of the endangered species protected by Service under a law called the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

During the car ride to the site I met one of the Service’s biologists, Josh Emery, who was more than happy to give me an overview on his job. Josh works on Section 7 of the ESA. His job is to make sure that new construction plans in the Central Valley of California are not severely compromising habitat, or possible habitat, of endangered animals and plants.

Do you know much about the ESA? As a high school student, I sure didn’t.

The ESA was established in 1973 and passed to create a safety net for endangered and threatened plants and animals. This ensures that groups, organizations and agencies like Service can protect and help to conserve species and their habitat.

(I am no biologist, and am inferring that the average reader won’t be either, so I’ll stick with that simple explanation.)

Service employees like Josh work to ensure that the construction of buildings won’t come at the cost of losing animals and plants that the interlocking webs of nature rely upon. Looking at a wide field that is overgrown with what seems to the average eye as weeds may not strike you as an area in critical need of protection, but within that field there could be many rare critters relying on it.

Tuesday’s outing, and others like it, provides the Service employees a chance to see the habitat and the animals they are protecting, which then helps them understand and perform their job to their maximum ability.

To the untrained eye this cattle pond looks boring and lifeless. 
I definitely wouldn’t have guessed that anything could live in there.
Photo Credit: Sarah Swenty/USFWS

When we arrived we were taken out into a hilly, privately owned area with various cattle ponds. To the untrained eye it looked boring and almost lifeless. The only sound I heard was the whirring of the windmill farm nearby. The grass was short, grazed by cows, and it looked yellow, dead and brittle; not at all the type of green grass I expected to find animals living in and on. It was kind of dusty until you got down to the actual cattle pond we were visiting. The pond didn’t seem lively either. It was murky, brown and green and overridden with algae. I wouldn’t have even taken a second look if it weren’t for the fact that everyone else stopped and was getting their nets and buckets out.

When the first net was dipped into the shallow and unattractive water I figured the most they’d find was maybe one. Well, the net came up out of that pond and I saw at least 5 slimy salamanders wiggling around. The second time a net was pulled in they brought out a bigger net, one with two sticks holding the ends and two people waded out into the middle and the drug it through to the side, with what looked to be about 100 CTS poking through the mud. It was the oddest experience, to look at that pond with its murky algae covered surface and see a whole net-full of life. I think I understood better about what Josh had been explaining.

It was the oddest experience, to look at that pond with its murky algae
covered surface and see a whole net-full of life. Empty field or cattle pond,
endangered species live in a variety of locations. Each differs in size,
shape, sight, smells.
Photo Credit: Sarah Swenty/USFWS

Empty field or cattle pond, endangered species live in a variety of locations. Each differs in size, shape, sight, smells. It isn’t as easy as looking out a window and saying, oh, that tree that’s all green and fruitful looks like a good home.

The biologists working on Section 7, like Josh, do that every day. Except they don’t get to see the actual landscape all the time, usually they work through papers and on computers. They aren’t out in the field working most days; they sit in cubicles much like the one I’ve been working in. So when opportunities like these come up it helps them to better understand what to look out for within their paperwork. Their job is an important role within the Endangered Species Act as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Story by Ashley Cotter, Summer Intern, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Sacramento Office
August 1, 2011