The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service joins numerous conservation organizations to observe Endangered Species Day on May 20, 2011. The purpose of the special day is to “recognize conservation efforts underway across the nation aimed at helping America’s imperiled species.”
Wildlife conservation and restoration projects are happening all over this land, some maybe in your own neck of the woods/neighborhood.
One example is the New England Cottontail Restoration Project (Watch the video of the Project, article continues):
With most federally designated, honorific days , there is usually good cause for celebration, but with this Friday being Endangered Species Day, it may just as truthfully be called a day of remembrance.
According to ecologists and biologists who have been taking inventory of global biodiversity, we are in the midst of a “6th mass extinction“. That’s mass extinction as in the kind that kills off massive numbers of lifeforms, like the dinosaurs.
The difference is that this current mass extinction is happening faster than past ones. Conservative and liberal estimates of the current extinction rate range between 10 and 100 times the normal, “background” extinction rate. So, what took thousands or hundreds of thousands of years to transpire in the geologic past, is taking barely a couple of hundred years in this Modern era.
Good news on the national endangered species front is, in reality, mixed news. For, even with the recent settlement (May 2011) between litigants and the US Dept. of the Interior (that will see hundreds of species of plants and animals given federal protection status), this protection is given because their survival is being threatened. Their are currently 46i “candidates” for ESA listing registered with the FWS. And for the lucky 250 or so that will be granted ESA protection, hundreds more will remain teetering on the brink of becoming endangered. Realistically, federal agencies are limited as to how much they can do under current budget constraints.
Globally, there are a few bright spots: the Central American crocodile (banned from importing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, now covered by C.I.T.E.S. regulations) has rebounded from near extinction, and tiger (Panthera tigris) populations (on reserves, mostly in India) are increasing, modestly. On the other hand, and closer to home, the Rocky Mountain gray wolf (Canis lupus) population continue to be in flux, several species of North American brown bat — not previously endangered — are now threatened with extinction due to a fungal (geomyces) invasion.
Onward to the South Pole, we find our beloved penguins imperiled — most notably, Emperor penguins are threatened from a decline in food supply. Both of the latter two declines (bats and penguins) are attributed, in large part, to rapid climate change (if you missed it, check out my earlier article: Endangered Animal Watch (Update): Wolves, Tigers, Bats & Penguins
Lizards and amphibians — amongst the most sensitive, animal indicators of climate change — continue their sharp population declines, with estimates of up to 39% of all Mexican lizard species going extinct by 2080.
Further, a great number of native bird species from Europe and the Americas are threatened, endangered, or near extinction. The primary cause of these declines are a combination of climate change and habitat destruction due to human development. The decline of so many bird species — many of them pollinators — also threatens the survival of the plants they formerly pollinated.
That is only a small summary of the growing list of endangered animals.
But if you are reading this far, then perhaps there is still hope that this current mass extinction can be checked, if not reversed.
There are many things that can be done, but the simplest way to make a difference is to voice your values to your representatives in our State and Federal legislatures, or contact your local Fish and Wildlife Service headquarters for restoration volunteer opportunities, or simply do a search on “Save the _________” (fill in your favorite species, chances are, it’s threatened somewhere), then donate, and/or get involved (email or letter campaigns are still helpful).
For more information about Endangered Species Day events in your area, visit the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s endangered species web page.
Top photo: relict leopard Frog (Lithobates onca); USFWS
Second photo: New Mexico meadow jumping mouse (Zapus hudsonius luteus); USFWS
Third photo: Mardon skipper (Polites mardon); USFS/USDA
Fourth photo: Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus); Pacific Southwest Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Fifth photo: `awikiwiki (Canavalia pubescens) or lavafield Jack-bean; Forest & Kim Starr
Michael Ricciardi is a well-published writer of science/nature/technology articles and essays, poetry and short fiction. Michael has interviewed dozen of scientists from many scientific fields, including Brain Greene, Paul Steinhardt, and Nobel Laureate Ilya Progogine (deceased). Michael was trained as a naturalist and taught ecology and natural science on Cape Cod, Mass. from 1986-1991. His first arts grant was for production of the environmental (video) documentary 'The Jones River - A Natural History', 1987-88 (Kingston, Mass.). Michael is also an award winning, internationally screened video artist. Two of his more recent short videos; 'A Time of Water Bountiful' and 'My Name is HAM' (an "imagined memoir" about the first chimp in space), and several other short videos, can be viewed on his website (http://www.chaosmosis.net). Michael currently lives in Seattle, Washington.