Today’s Factismal: In the time since the Endangered Species list was created, 34 species have recovered – and 10 have gone extinct.
It is no secret that man has had an outsize effect on the environment. Sometimes, our influence has been a good one; we got rid of smallpox and are close to making polio extinct as well. But sometimes our influence hasn’t been so benign. Thanks to our need for energy, we’ve increased the CO2 levels in the atmosphere and increased the globe’s temperature as a result. Thanks to our need for fresh food, we nearly obliterated the ozone layer (but it is getting better). And thanks to our need to get rid of tropical diseases, we nearly made our national bird extinct – along with more than 2,000 other animals and plants! Fortunately, we discovered our mistake in time and set about rectifying it with the Endangered Species Act. Since the Endangered Species Act was made law, some 2,270 species of animal and plant have been put under federal protection. And since then, 34 species have recovered enough to be delisted. unfortunately, another ten species have become extinct.
As an example of the Endangered Species Act’s effectiveness, consider the bald eagle. The steady flap of its wings, the piercing cry as it spies a fish, and the sudden swoop on its dinner combine to make for an unforgettable moment. And yet, in 1963 we thought that the bald eagle might be lost forever. At that time, years of hunting by sportsmen, poisoning by farmers who thought the eagles stole livestock, and slow attrition due to the accumulation of pesticides and other poisons had reduced the number of bald eagles in the wild to the point that many thought they were headed for extinction.
But laws passed to prevent hunting bald eagles and to clean up the environment have allowed a dramatic turnaround in bald eagle populations. Where they once were restricted to Alaska and Florida with a few strays in the Great Lakes, they now fly over forty-nine states. (They’d fly over all fifty, but cannot get enough frequent flyer miles to get to Hawaii.) Not surprisingly, Alaska is the state with the most bald eagles; the abundant trees and fish make the state a veritable paradise for more than 50,000 of the birds. Surprisingly, the state with the second largest number of bald eagles is Minnesota, with more than 2,600. Florida comes in a very close number three with some 2,300 bald eagles. And more than 23 states have at least 100 pairs, with every state having at least one pair of bald eagles!
So the return of the bald eagle is one of the success stories in the history of conservation. But that story is still being written, and we need more authors. If you’d like to add a line or two, then why not join one of these programs dedicated to observing and reporting on bald eagles?
Arizona Bald Eagle Nest Watch Program http://www.azgfd.gov/inside_azgfd/employment_eagle.shtml
Audubon of Florida EagleWatch http://fl.audubon.org/audubon-eaglewatch
Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory Bald Eagle Watch http://rmbo.org/v3/OurWork/Science_/CitizenScience/BaldEagleWatch.aspx