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What does it mean to be an endangered species? Are endangered species destined for extinction? We're exploring some of these ideas in celebration of Endangered Species Day, May 20th!
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We appreciate whatever you can give and thanks so much for helping to make this happen. And now to our video! May 20th is endangered-species day!

But, what's an endangered species anyway? For starters all of the specimens you see around me are just a fraction of the species currently recognized as threatened, endangered, or even extinct by the Endangered Species Act. The United States Endangered Species Act, the ESA, was signed on December 28 1973.

It provides for the conservation of species that are endangered or threatened throughout all or a significant portion of their range and the conservation of the ecosystems on which they depend. It's unlike any other conservation plan in the world and since its implementation the ESA has celebrated success stories including that of the popular peregrine falcon and those of lesser known species like the Alpine flower Robbins Cinquefoil. The first few lines of the ESA state the Congress finds and declares the various species of fish, wildlife, and plants in the United States have been rendered extinct as a consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation, YIKES!

That's basically Congress saying, look guys because of our eagerness to build and expand without consideration to our collective word "we" as in people are having a huge and negative impact on lots of other organisms and that's not fair. Essentially the Act aims to do three things prevent listed species from being killed or harmed, protect habitats essential to the species survival, and create plans to restore healthy populations. Today there are approximately two thousand two hundred and forty five species currently listed by the ESA six hundred and fifty of these live outside of the US or are in foreign waters you don't have to live inside the U.

S. specifically in order to receive protections the species recognized by the ESA are classified into one of a few groups: threatened, endangered, and candidates up for listing in either category. Endangered species are those which are an eminent threat of extinction, while threatened species are those which are at risk of becoming endangered. How does a species gain endangered status?

A species achieves recognition as a potential candidate for listing in one of a few ways the first is that a private citizen group or organization petitions for a species to be considered for listing by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. If you have enough information documentation and motivation you too can put forth a petition to list a species you're concerned about. With substantial evidence in support of your claim the Fish and Wildlife Service may determine listing for the species could be warranted.

The second way is through a candidate assessment by FWS biologists. This is a long process of assessment, reassessment, monitoring, and reporting on a species of concern as they attempt to prioritize those organisms which are most heavily threatened. Unfortunately, this can take a significant amount of time at a minimum it might take 18 months between a proposal submission and the listing of that species and that's just the listing implementation of protection programs takes even longer.

Similarly there's no limit on how long a species sits in candidate limbo so it's not unusual for a lower priority organism to be an eligible candidate for years like more than 20 years. The Warm Spring Zaitzevian Riffle Beetle is one of a handful of insects that went up every few years between 1984 and 2002. It's a water beetle for Montana found in a habitat smaller than the size of your average studio apartment.

Through a series of unfortunate events a cement water collection box was built around much of their habitat in the early 1900s by the 1970s someone put a solid metal lid on the box choking out light which prevented algae their main food source from growing. At that point they were nominated to become candidates up for protection by the ESA but they weren't quite a top priority. Species which are at a higher risk for extinction race to the top of the priority list and each candidate species is assigned a recovery priority from 1 to 18. 18 being the lowest priority.

Priority level is assigned according to things like the degree of threats, uniqueness of its taxonomy, and the recovery potential and although the Zaitzevian Riffle beetle never quite made it to priority number one action was taken to restore their stream ecosystem and their population numbers even without legal protection but as one species moves off the candidate list others move on the most recent report of species awaiting their review listed 59 different ones including the bivalve quad Rula patrina commonly known as the Texas pimple back which brings me to my next point. What sort of species are covered by the ESA? Out of the 2,245 species listed more than half of those 1,354 are animals 901 are plants there are 280 invertebrates and 90 of those 280 invertebrates alone are clams.

Invertebrates comprise 21% of all listed animals you might think there would be more invertebrates simply because their biodiversity dwarfs of vertebrates so from the outside it appears to be a trend toward listing the more charismatic organisms. Take a group like the millipede despite their ecological importance there are no millipedes recognized as threatened or endangered that's not to say millipede habitats or populations aren't threatened only that perhaps there isn't enough information on a species nor enough millipede advocates in the world to go ahead and petition for their candidacy, but arguably if you listed a few species of millipedes that would also preserve their habitats in turn offering protection for other organisms. Understanding this conservation groups have likely had more success protecting those less adorable organisms by instead seeking out support for the better studied charismatic creatures.

Believe me I have tried to get I stand with unionid bivalves off of the ground and it has not been easy regardless if the ESA is a popularity contest in favor of the furry and feathery is it considered a good thing to be listed as an endangered or threatened species? Well it's difficult to say in many ways yes listing a species suggest that enough research has been done to confirm that it is in need of government protection. This can be seen as a step in the right direction for the future of that species and for that ecosystem on which it depends but listing a species also has the tendency to make it more difficult to study or to study species which live in the same habitats as those which are protected.

Acknowledging this one of the major goals of the ESA is to prompt enough support for an organism that change can occur before that species even requires governmental protection. This is because once an organism is listed as endangered or threatened certain measures have to be undertaken to ensure its safety. This includes everything from purchasing or securing land where that organism occurs to enforcing strict regulations about any activities recreational or developmental that might affect the species habitat.

The case of the greater sage-grouse is a great example of various groups deciding to be proactive about a species protection these birds are completely reliant on low brush sage habitats across Wyoming in the Northern Plains which also happens to be rich farm and ranch land in an area ripe for development. Population numbers have been declining in recent years but to list the bird means to restrict any encroachment on its territory. That's not considered a sustainable approach even by environmentalists instead environmental agencies worked with private landowners and energy producers to figure out a way to work alongside the greater sage-grouse.

This required finding a solution that would leave the sage-grouse is vital habitat intact and still allow for natural gas drilling operations and responsible development of the land to take place and by creating sustainable plans to coexist alongside the greater sage-grouse some 350 other species which live within its habitat are also enjoying the benefits of a responsibly managed ecosystem. The Endangered Species Act is not perfect but perhaps one of the greatest things that has done for species in their environments is to make us accountable for how we interact with the world it has helped us to see that our cities and developments do not have borders separating us from nature but that fragile natural ecosystem still exists all around us and in some cases despite of us. It's worth recognizing this as a reality and to take ownership in whatever way we can whether that's by volunteering to monitor a local habitat learning more about endangered or threatened species in your area or by creating an obscure hashtag to promote undervalued flora and fauna every bit of effort counts.

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