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2011: A Year in Review
by Sarah Leon
Photo Credit: Kimberly Tamkun/USFWS
The start of a new year is more than just a change of calendar. For many of us, the change inspires reflection and leads us to evaluate progress made, celebrate accomplishments, and discover room for improvement. Looking back on 2011, we recognize that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) delivers remarkable successes.
The ESA provides a safety net for our nation's native fish, wildlife and plants. All Americans can take pride in the fact that, under the ESA, the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus), black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes), and western snowy plover (Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus) have rebounded from the brink of extinction. We can also celebrate the fact that many species, including the Maguire daisy (Erigeron maguirei) and Tennessee purple coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis), have been removed from the list of endangered and threatened species because the ESA's protection is no longer necessary for their survival.
While the total number of species to be delisted due to recovery is modest in comparison to the nearly 1,400 species the ESA protects, this does not mean the ESA is not working. Often, these vulnerable species gain ESA protection when their populations are precariously low. Recovery is an extraordinarily complex and challenging task that takes time and the effort of many.
Photo Credit: Michelle Dela Cruz, National Park Service
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) work closely with a diverse group of partners to further species conservation. Without this collaboration, conservation of imperiled species could not succeed. States and local governments, other federal agencies, Tribes, nongovernmental organizations, academia, and private landowners provide tremendous support in the implementation of a variety of management actions aimed at removing or reducing threats to the species' survival, slowing the rate of decline, stabilizing the species, and rebuilding populations.
Many of the success stories of 2011 are the result of our work with partners. This edition illustrates some of the ways in which our conservation partners have contributed to species recovery: from the state of Tennessee working to recover the Tennessee purple coneflower, to the myriad partners involved in the Oregon Statewide Habitat Conservation Plan for western snowy plovers. The extraordinary comeback of the black-footed ferret from fewer than 20 known individuals in the wild to over 1,000 today demonstrates the success of our cooperative partnerships with private landowners and an outstanding captive breeding program. The dramatic reversal of fortunes for the California condor, a majestic icon of the American west, is another example of the strength of partnerships. The few remaining condors were removed from the wild in the early 1980s in last-ditch effort to recover the species using captive breeding. Today, the number of wild condors exceeds the number captive condors, and the species is successfully reproducing in the wild—a feat that was hard to imagine just a few decades ago.
These stories demonstrate that the number of species delisted due to recovery is not a complete measure of the ESA's success. The ESA has prevented hundreds of species from becoming extinct, stabilized the populations of many others, and set many species on the track to recovery. Each outcome is a true measure of success.
Although significant progress has been made in safeguarding our nation's imperiled species and the habitats upon which they depend, we face continuing challenges. The road to species recovery can be a long one, full of twists and turns. A single, catastrophic event – whether natural or human-caused – can quickly undo years of progress and provide a setback to recovery. In addition, new challenges lie ahead in the conservation of endangered and threatened species as a result of climate change. In the face of these challenges, our most effective tools for recovering species are the creativity, dedication, and sheer determination of Service staff, in cooperation with federal, state, and local agencies; Tribes; nongovernmental organizations; and private landowners. With the support of our growing list of partners, the ESA is, and will continue to be, a success.
Sarah Leon, editor of the Endangered Species Bulletin, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-358-2229.
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