By Ann Paul, President, Tampa Audubon
The news is incredibly sad. Last month, on Sept. 29, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to remove 23 species from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) due to extinction. This means that these animals no longer are part of the heritage of the United States of America.
Created by Congress fifty years ago in 1973, the ESA protects threatened or endangered fish, wildlife, and plants by preparing and implementing plans for their recovery. But the ESA failed to save these 23 species. Most of them were rare or even gone from our country before the act was passed, their populations decimated by forest harvest or stream habitat decimation.
Eight were freshwater mussels. Two fish will never swim again in our nation’s waters. The Little Mariana fruit bat and the Bridled White-Eye (a bird) have long been gone from the skies of Guam. Hawaii has lost forever eight amazing birds and one perennial flowering mint from the west slopes of Lanai.
But the two species that hit home – literally – are two that occurred in Florida – the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and Bachman’s Warbler. A huge woodpecker, Ivory-billeds relied on the very old growth forests of the south, harvested extensively and nearly completely to provide wood for human use. The last confirmed sighting was in 1944 in Louisiana. In the weeks since this announcement, the Service has decided to delay the extinction designation for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. It seems a dim hope remains.
Bachman’s Warbler, a small, brightly-colored yellow and gray songbird, nested in South Carolina forests and wintered in Cuba, migrating through Florida each spring and fall. They haven’t been seen in the U.S. since 1962.
I can’t help but feel a real sense of loss, reading this news from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
So, what can be done to make sure species don’t continue to slide down in their populations to extinction? Mostly, it’s habitat protection, through acquisition and restoration of environmentally important lands. The Biden-Harris administration’s America the Beautiful initiative, a locally led and voluntary, nationwide effort to conserve, connect, and restore 30 percent of lands and waters by 2030, has the right idea.
In Florida, we’ve been working on this for a long time – under Governor Martinez and other leaders (excluding Rick Scott, who stopped state land acquisition dead in its tracks), we have purchased many important habitats across Florida. The national effort has been extensive here too, with national parks, forests, and other lands offering critical resources for our wildlife.
One of the most impressive programs has been Hillsborough County’s Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program – over 65,000 acres protected in the county without a single impropriety even whispered.
Continuing the efforts of the ESA is very important, too. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland offers, “The Endangered Species Act has been incredibly effective at preventing species from going extinct and has also inspired action to conserve at-risk species and their habitat before they need to be listed as endangered or threatened.” And she’s right. We all know of birds that, once listed, are now more plentiful, including, among others, the Brown Pelican.
My point is, we aren’t out of the woods yet. We must stay on target, working with ESA, land protection programs, and community and national leaders to push forward and preserve our significant national heritage, birds and all.