Species of the month April 2009

In honor of Earth Day--sort of--I am writing this month on Wyoming endangered species.   I have no photos this time--I have not photographed any endangered species.  I have seen a grizzly bear, but I generally stay far away from large carnivores.  I have seen a wolf, outside of Yellowstone.  It is possible that I have seen an endangered bird or fish and I did not recognized it as such.  

According to the US Fish and Wildlife service web site, there are 16 animals and 6 plants that are listed as endangered in Wyoming.  (Other web sites had varying numbers--I went with the official site.)

The species are:

Grizzly bear, black-footed ferret, lynx, Preble's meadow jumping mouse, wolf (two listings)

Chub (two species), razorback sucker, dace, pike minnow (squawfish), pallid sturgeon

Wyoming toad

Whooping crane, piping plover, tern 

(You can check the site US Fish and Wildlife site for more information.)

Most people are aware of the Grizzly bear, black-footed ferret and wolf being endangered.  Wyomingites are often aware of the Preble's mouse because there has been tremendous arguing over whether or not the mouse is actually a unique species.  It was once said that to identify the mouse, it had to be dead and autopsied.  I can't confirm this, and the controversy continues.

Originally, the idea of the ESA seemed to be to slow or stop a decline in species due to human activity.  Over time, it has instead become a political tool and a quest to avoid ALL extinctions, since humans are now generally considered responsible for all bad things on earth.

Saving species is not a bad thing.  Diversity in nature is truly awesome.  However, species have gone extinct throughout time, whether humans were involved or not.  Still, why not try to save what we can?  Great idea, but the ESA is not applied in that manner--it is used to try and save ALL species.  We need a change in interpretation and application of the act to effectively manage wildlife.

Realistically, some species go extinct no matter what.  (I think a guy named Darwin wrote something on that.....)  An animal that cannot adapt to new food and habitats will go extinct in time, whether we like it or not.  Pandas are very fascinating creatures, but they have extremely limited adaptability.  Humans may be able to some habitat for the Pandas, but we then we must  a "reserve" for the animal.  Should anything happen to that "reserve", say a lightening caused fire, there will be nothing anyone can do to save the bears.  Sometimes animals go extinct.  We need to recognize this in our management practices and decide how far we need to go to extend the presence of an animal that is certain to loose the battle for survival--how much do we interfere in a natural process? 

Black footed ferrets were believed to be extinct--which illustrates that humans are not really good with the idea that "not seeing and animal for a long time" does not equal  "the animal is extinct".  It just means we don't know where it is.  There are a surprising  number of "extinct" animals found each year.  

One species most people believe is listed is the Bald Eagle.  According to the Fish and Wildlife page, eagles were removed from the Endangered list in 2007 because the population had recovered.   These are quite common now--I see them all around the Casper area.   It may not be a bad thing that people think the eagles are endangered because that way the eagles are left alone.  

Checking on animals and plants that were removed from the Endangered list, 16 were removed because they should not have listed in the first place (they did not meet listing criteria, new information, etc), nine are extinct (or no one has seen them in a long time) and 22 recovered.  I'm not sure what that says about the ESA and success.  It seems that over twice as many animals/plants recover as go extinct.   That would seem to be a positive sign.  However, if a species is never listed and goes extinct, I am uncertain how that is recorded or if it even is.  Also, 16 species took up time and money, only to find protection was not needed after all.  Better criteria, screening and guidelines could help in this area.

Back to my opening statement concerning the political aspect of the ESA.  Right now, in Wyoming wolves are listed as endangered.  The same endangered wolf in Wyoming can cross into Idaho, Montana, Utah and the wolf is no longer endangered.  How does that make sense?  How can crossing a state line make an animal more likely to go extinct and more rare??  This certainly is not science.

Lastly, it is often argued that a species dying forever changes the whole ecosystem--and it does.  However, this is the way the world has always worked--things die, others emerge. Interestingly, there doesn't seem to be the same problem with the global changes in an ecosystem when a species is "reintroduced".  When the wolves were dropped off in Yellowstone, the whole ecosystem changed--and that was a good thing?  When the wolves were driven out, that was a bad thing?  Both were changes.  Why is on change good and the other bad--since the argument seems to be that a complete change (as in an animal being lost to an ecosystem) is bad.  Both instances are complete changes in the ecosystem.  Again, no clear cut ideas or guidelines exist in the ESA and the reasoning seems tochange to match whatever goal is desired. 

We need to protect animals as much as possible and maintain as many species as practicable.  However, the ideas of "endangered", "threatened" and what a "species" actually is needs to based on science and free from politics.  It's unlikely that this will happen, but if people really are serious about saving wildlife, this will be necessary.   

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