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- A Landmark Year in Conservation: The 40th Anniversary of the Endangered Species Act
- Clackamas River Bull Trout Reintroduction: Placing bull trout on the path towards recovery
- Initiative Heals Rare Forest and Recovers Squirrel
- The Topeka Shiner: Shining a Spotlight on an Iowa Success Story
- Recovery Success for the First Endangered Plants
- The Delicate Balance of Saving Homes and Preventing Extinction
A Landmark Year in Conservation
The 40th Anniversary of the Endangered Species Act
by Sarah Leon
Brette Soucie, USFWS
“Nothing is more priceless and worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed. It is a many-faceted treasure, of value to scholars, scientists, and nature lovers alike, and it forms a vital part of the heritage we all share as Americans.” President Richard Nixon upon signing the Endangered Species Act of 1973 into law.
Each New Year promises fresh challenges, opportunities, and – with some fortune – conservation triumphs that bring hope for even greater years to follow. As we enter the ruby anniversary year of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), we remember the trials that tested its declaration to protect imperiled species, no matter their perceived value, as well as the many accomplishments that proved it to be a remarkably successful tool for preventing extinction and steadily improving the conservation prospects for vanishing species.
Just forty years ago, many species were in serious decline. The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) – the symbol of our nation's strength – was in dire straits, as was the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus anatum). The story behind the decline of these two magnificent birds of prey is much the same: slowly poisoned by the widespread, and virtually unregulated, use of DDT—a harmful pesticide that nearly eliminated both species. The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) – once common in the Great Plains from southern Canada to northern Mexico – was feared extinct, and the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) nearly missing from southeastern swamps. The greenback cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki ssp. stomias) had retreated to two small, unstable headwater streams in northern Colorado. The persistence of these species was in doubt—a slow and steady stream of events – both natural and human-caused – over the decades seemed to have sealed their tragic fate.
Photo Credit: Jared Martin, USFWS
In 1973, President Richard Nixon, with strong, bipartisan support in both houses of Congress, responded to this dark hour for our native plant and animal resources by signing into law the ESA. By putting pen to paper, Nixon set into motion one of our nation's most important conservation statutes, which, four decades later, still represents our nation's unwavering commitment to protect and preserve our natural heritage—a commitment borne out of an understanding of the direct link between the health of our ecosystems and our own well-being.
The cornerstone of imperiled wildlife and plant conservation in the U.S., the ESA has brought about some of history's most incredible comebacks. Americans can take pride in the fact that many species that were once on the verge of disappearing forever are now thriving again. The bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and American alligator have recovered to the point where ESA protection is no longer necessary for their survival. We can also celebrate the fact that the ESA has given the nearly 1,400 domestic species it protects a brighter future. Many species including the black-footed ferret and greenback cutthroat have rebounded from the brink of extinction.
At the heart of these success stories is collaboration. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and National Marine Fisheries Service work closely with a diverse group of partners to further species recovery. 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 species' survival, slowing the rate of decline, stabilizing species, and rebuilding populations.
Photo Credit: Joel Sartore, National Geographic & Wade Fredenberg, USFWS
This edition looks at some recent successes under the ESA, achieved through collective action: from the state of Oregon working to restore the bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) to the Clackamas River, to the myriad partners involved in the Central Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative to benefit the West Virginia northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus fuscus). The extraordinary comeback of the Topeka shiner (Notropis topeka) in Iowa demonstrates the success of our cooperative partnerships with private landowners, and the reversal of fortunes for San Clemente Island lotus (Acmispon dendroideus var. traskiae) and San Clemente Island paintbrush (Castilleja grisea), both among the first plants to gain ESA protection, are yet additional examples of the strength of partnerships. Ongoing conservation efforts carried out by the U.S. Navy have helped reduce threats to these plants, improving the status of these species on California's San Clemente Island so dramatically since the time of listing that the Service has proposed reclassifying them from endangered to the less critical threatened category. These plants are just part of the noticeably improved appearance and diversity of the natural landscape on the island.
Although we have made considerable progress in safeguarding our imperiled species and their habitats since the passage of the ESA, the challenge we face is ongoing. Our growth into a nation of more than 300 million people inevitable creates more threats to the health and well-being of our native fish, wildlife, and plants. Loss of habitat and introduction of invasive species are the most serious threats to vulnerable species and their habitats. Additionally, climate change promises to expand the scope and complexity of these problems.
Our most effective tools for recovering species, in the face of these challenges, are the creativity, dedication, and sheer determination of Service staff and our partners. Working together, within the framework of an enduring ESA, we will create a lasting legacy of healthy, thriving flora and fauna for generations of Americans to come.
Sarah Leon, editor of the Endangered Species Bulletin, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-358-2229.
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