By Leda Huta
Endangered Species Coalition
It isn’t often enough that we hear good news about wildlife. But, we do have something to celebrate right now when it comes to the native wildlife, fish, birds and plants that live within our borders. Late last week, the United States Senate unanimously passed a resolution, declaring May 21st as Endangered Species Day.
The resolution (S. Res. 503) “encourages the people of the United States to become educated about and aware of threats to species, success stories in species recovery and the opportunity to promote species conservation worldwide and to observe the day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”
The resolution was sponsored by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), along with Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Carl Levin (D-MI), John Kerry (D-MA), and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ.)
Started by the United States Senate in 2006, this year will be the 5th annual Endangered Species Day. Every year, parks, wildlife refuges, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, museums, libraries, schools, scout troops and community organizations hold Endangered Species Day events on the third Friday of May.
Remembering our victories in endangered species protections is exactly what we need at a time like this when our work to protect wildlife and habitats along the Gulf Coast is so heartbreaking. Despite the setbacks that occur, it is remarkable that the United States has made an enduring promise to the plants and creatures that share our country. By enacting the Endangered Species Act, we made a legal guarantee that to the best of our ability and resources, we the American people, would ensure that wildlife, fish, birds and plants shall live and flourish in our nation.
Few, if any, other countries have made, and followed through, on such a noble and moral commitment to respect the living things that share our land. Yes, we at the Endangered Species Coalition and most of our member groups want to see even more done to protect those species that are teetering on the edge of extinction. However, Endangered Species Day, is a time for all of us to step back and recognize just how far we’ve come.
If it weren’t for the work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, conservation organizations, and citizens across the country, a number of species would have gone extinct in the past three decades since the Act was passed.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Endangered Species Act has helped to prevent the extinction of hundreds of species.
“The Endangered Species Act is the nation’s premier law protecting biodiversity today,” said Acting Service Director Rowan Gould. “The bald eagle, American alligator and gray wolf are all species which once found themselves on the list, facing the brink of extinction, but have successfully rebounded. The wood stork, Kirtland’s warbler, Louisiana black bear and Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle are still listed species that are showing good progress towards achieving recovery — the ultimate goal of the ESA. These species and many others continue to benefit from the protections afforded by the ESA and the dedicated people who work through the Act to ensure their continued existence.”
For instance, the eastern population of the Peregrine falcon was extinct and the western population was at only 324 nesting pairs in 1975. Today, there are between 2,000 and 3,000 breeding pairs in North America. The Kirtland’s warbler was down to just 201 pairs in the early 1970s, but has been bouncing back and reached 1,414 pairs in 2005. One of the most endangered amphibians in the country, the Wyoming toad, is on the road to recovery with more than 100,000 Wyoming toadlets released since 1994. A critically endangered butterfly, Lange’s metalmark butterfly has seen its numbers rise from only 158 in 2006 to 367 in 2008. The Endangered Species Act has saved these and many more species from extinction, the California condor, the Florida manatee, the Whooping crane, the Karner blue butterfly, the American alligator, the Pygmy rabbit, the Bald eagle, the Aleutian Canada goose, Robbins’ cinquefoil, Shortnose sturgeon, and the list goes on.
It is these kinds of successes that we celebrate on Endangered Species Day. This year, states across the country will hold celebrations, including four landmark events to be held at the U.S. Botanic Gardens, the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Maine Wildlife Park, and the Bozeman Fish Hatchery. Participants at Endangered Species Day events will be able to restore habitat for the New England Cottontail Rabbit, look for endangered birds on the San Francisco Bay, see endangered fish at the Bozeman Fish Hatchery and learn about endangered plants and pollinators at the U.S. Botanic Gardens.
We can’t survive without the animals and plants that grace this planet. Sustaining the earth’s ecosystems is necessary for our own lives—providing the air we breathe, the water we drink, the medicines that cure us, the food that sustains us, and the recreation that rejuvenates our spirits. The wondrous web-of-life that comprises nature continues to astound us with its complexity.
Please join us in celebrating our natural world’s beauty and diversity and America’s commitment to keeping it that way. Find an event near you at http://www.EndangeredSpeciesDay.org.