In our efforts to save animals at risk of extinction, we've saved some extraordinary places as well.
The Endangered Species Act was signed in December of 1973, providing agency for the conservation of species that are endangered or threatened – the beautiful bonus is that the conservation of the habitat on which they depend is consequently, and necessarily, protected as well.
Jamie Pang and Brett Hartl from the Center for Biological Diversity had this in mind when they penned their report, Saving Species and Wild Space: 10 Extraordinary Places Saved by the Endangered Species Act. In it they highlight not only that the Endangered Species Act has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the plant and animal species it shields, but that the Act’s protective measures help revitalize and keep safe the places where they live, including some of the world’s most remarkable forests, plains, deserts and oceans. From the report:
Though land acquisition and the creation of wildlife refuges to better management of public lands and waters to pollution control, the Act provides a comprehensive framework to recover endangered species. Those same highly effective conservation tools help to restore and revive ecosystems that have become degraded after decades of abuse. All across the United States, the conservation benefits of endangered species protection spread far beyond individual protected species to entire ecological communities key to the long-term health of thousands of species, including humans.
The authors note that hundreds of millions of acres of land and water have rebounded and are being beautifully cared for and protected, and it creates a bit of a snowball effect. When a wildlife refuge is established for the protection of an endangered species, thousands more species of plants and animals also benefit. "The landscapes, seascapes and waterways we cherish and depend on are healthier and more vibrant as a direct result of the proven conservation tools provided by the Endangered Species Act."
Here are 10 places the report gives a shout-out to:
1. Pacific Kelp Forests
© Neil Fisher / NOAA
Sea otters are a classic example of a "keystone species" – a species of whose decline quickly unravels a whole ecosystem – which was evidenced with their plummeting population along the coast from California to Oregon. Long hunted for their fur, as sea otter populations declined, sea urchin populations boomed since they were no longer serving as prey for the otters. The urchins pillaged the underwater kelp forests, which had a negative impact on 20 species of fish and marine mammals, including sea lions, whales, sea otters and invertebrates like sea snails. The kelp forests also play an important part in preventing shoreline erosion and absorbing greenhouse gases. After being listed as a threatened species in 1977, sea otters have gradually rebounded, as have the kelp forests.
2. Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, Hawaii
Islands have it great, and islands have it tough. The Hawaiian islands are some of the most biodiverse regions
of the United States, but also a hotbed of endangered species, thanks much to invasive species that the native fauna and flora are no match for. The introduction of rats, cats, cane toads, mongooses, goats and pigs and a melange of other non-native plants and animals have helped diminish Hawaiian species. The Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge (pictured top) on Hawaii’s big island was established in 1997 and is completely fenced off to allow for the elimination of feral pigs and other invasive species and to serve as the future introduction site for the extinct-in-the-wild `alalā, or Hawaiian crow, notes the report. Now the thriving refuge plays home to many endangered species, like the Hawaii `akepa, Hawaii creeper, `akiapōlā`au, the `io or Hawaiian hawk, the ōpe`ape`a or Hawaiian hoary bat, and others.
3. San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona
Steve Hillebrand/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Public Domain
This 2,300-acre refuge was established in the early 1980s for the protection of four endangered fish species endemic to the Río Yaqui – the Yaquitopminnow, Yaqui chub, Yaqui beautiful shiner and Yaqui catfish. The refuge also protects the remaining parts of the San Bernardino ciénega – an integral marsh that serves as a migratory corridor for important migrating species, without the marsh many struggling species of fishes, birds, mammals, bees, butterflies and amphibians would not be able to survive the desert. In the meantime, other species like the threatened
Chiricahua leopard frog, threatened Mexican garter snake and endangered lesser long-nosed bat have also been given a second lease on survival thanks to the conservation efforts.
4. Balcones Canyonlands Nat'l Wildlife Refuge, Texas
Created in 1992 to protect two endangered songbirds, the golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo, the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge near Austin serves to protect some of the last remaining Ashe juniper and oak woodlands in the state. With the creation of the refuge, the warbler’s population grew from 3,526 to 11,920 in less than two decades, and vireo’s population on the refuge increased from 153 males in 1987 to 11,392 in 2013. Many, many other species have benefited as well.
5. Sauta Cave National Wildlife Refuge, Alabama
This 264-acre refuge created in the forest of northeastern Alabama was specifically created to protect the endangered Indiana bat and gray bat. Gray bats dropped dramatically in the last century due to mining, cave disturbance, vandalism, persecution, flooding, deforestation and possibly pesticides. They have rebounded from a population of 2.2 million to 3.4 million in 2006. In addition to providing a safe place for the two endangered bats, the refuge is also home to 250 federally endangered Price’s potato-bean plants, the imperiled Tennessee cave salamander, a candidate species, and the Rafinesque’s big-eared bat.
6. Penobscot River, Maine
The longest river in Maine, the Penobscot is also the site of one of the largest river restoration projects in U.S. history. During the 19th century several dams were built which created devastation for fish that migrate through the river. This river ecosystem is home to birds, mammals, and 11 fish species, of which the Atlantic salmon, the shortnose sturgeon and the Atlantic sturgeon are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Two of the major dams were removed, largely to accommodate the endangered fish who needed to get to and from the ocean. Finally the fish can swim freely again; the Penobscot River remains the only U.S. river that has a sizeable Atlantic salmon run, and the dam removals should foster an increase in the wild population in years to come, says the report.
7. Longleaf Pine Ecosystem, Southeast
Longleaf pine forests once covered around 90 million acres in the southeastern U.S., one of the most extensive forest ecosystems in North America – but it has been broken up due to logging and land conversion to agricultural and residential use. Today only 3.4 million acres remain. Which is bad for nature because longleaf pine is one of our most ecologically important trees, playing home to some 100 bird, 36 mammal and 170 reptile and amphibian species. There are 29 species that depend on longleaf pine forests that have been granted Endangered Species Act protections, including endangered red cockaded woodpecker and gopher tortoise are keystone species that are essential to the survival of dozens of other species.
8. Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge, Florida Keys
The National Key Deer Refuge covers 9,200 acres and was established in 1957 in the Florida Keys to protect the cute-as-a-button endangered Key deer. The tiny Key deer – a wee 24 to 32 inches tall – is only found in the Keys, and because of hunting, poaching and habitat destruction, dwindled down to a population of just 50 by the 1920s. By 1967 when they received protection, there were only a few dozen left. With the listing and the refuge, the "toy" deer has rebounded to at least 800 by 2011. Notes the report: "The refuge currently consists of 9,200 acres that includes pine rockland forests, tropical hardwood hammocks, freshwater wetlands, salt marsh wetlands and mangrove forests that provide habitat for more than a dozen endangered and threatened species, more than 250 resident and migratory birds, and 40 different types of reptiles."
9. Green Cay National Wildlife Refuge, Virgin Islands
Only 14 acres in size, Green Cay National Wildlife Refuge was designated as a wildlife refuge and declared as critical habitat for the St. Croix ground lizard when the lizard was declared endangered in 1977. The small island now plays home to one of the only two naturally remaining populations of the lizard in the world. and the largest. The lizard population has more than tripled to 818 since the island was protected; the Caribbean brown pelican has benefitted greatly as well.
10. Lake Erie, Great Lakes
Lake Erie is home to the Lake Erie water snake, a nonvenomous, freshwater snake that is endemic to small islands in the lake, and listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1999 after unregulated killing and habitat loss drastically reduced its populations. Thanks to the protections, more than 300 acres of inland habitat and 11 miles of shoreline from Lake Erie’s 34 islands were protected and restored to help the little guys. After gaining federal protection, its population increased from 5,130 in 2001 to 9,800 in 2010; and as a result, the whole lake ecosystem has benefitted.
To read the whole report, which provides much more detail on the places and species than covered here, you can download it at: Saving Species and WIld Space: 10 Extraordinary Places Saved by the Endangered Species Act.