Updated: May 16
These species have quite the history behind them.
We’re all familiar with the majestic bald eagle, the declining polar bear, and the charismatic grey wolves. But these unique species, all listed under America's Endangered Species Act, have stories of their own that we should pay attention to.
A Bright Butterfly with a Dark Past
The El Segundo blue butterfly is a rare subspecies of Euphilotes battoides, the square-spotted blue butterfly. Only entomologists are nerdy enough to know all this.
But this species has a dark past: connections to a local Los Angeles gang member.
When Arthur Bonner was released from prison in the early ‘90s, uneducated and jobless, he joined the LA Conservation Corps. The job was plant restoration for the El Segundo blue butterfly, which was back-breaking and laborious work. He eventually worked hard enough to become a biologist-in-training on the butterflies themselves.
With a quote as tantalizing as “I’m saving them from extinction, and they’re saving me from the street,” you may ask yourself why this epic success story isn’t famous. A pick-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps story of an ex-convict turning his life around because of a butterfly? It’s media gold! What has now become of Arthur Bonner?
I actually heard of this story while teaching an Environmental Science lab last fall. We watched an out-of-date documentary from 1998 called “America’s Endangered Species: Don’t Say Goodbye” where this guy was interviewed about his heart-warming tale of butterfly salvation. Out of curiosity, one of my students looked up where he is now.
The answer? In prison. For murdering his girlfriend.
Yikes. No wonder the press didn’t more readily associate him with the success story of the butterfly.
While this is a tragic story, the good news is that El Segundo Blue is doing well at least.
The Smeltdown in Delta
Endemic to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, this 5 cm fish has been the talk of the town for over 40 years. Once abundant in the largest estuary in the northwest, only 6 Delta smelt were caught during a survey period during 2017. These were the lowest numbers scientists had ever seen.
Like other sensitive species, Delta smelt are very vulnerable to environmental changes and are an immediate reflection of any ecological problems. They were listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1993, mainly because of reduced water flow into the estuary. In addition, in 2016, the Delta Smelt Strategy was created to reduce nonnative predators and improve water conditions. Their numbers should have improved by now, right?
"What gives?" -an actual quote from a researcher.
The delta waterway is not only an ecosystem that house these unique little fish, but is also the hub of California's water supply. Water is pulled out of these rivers to supply ⅔ of the state's residents and 3 million acres of irrigated crops.
The pumps used to divert water are even strong enough to reverse the flow in portions of the river. As poor swimmers, this is bad news for the Delta smelt, who can often get caught up in the system. Think about that scene from Finding Nemo where Nemo gets caught in the tank's pipe system...yeah, not pretty.
After Delta smelt received federal protection, operators were mandated to use less water in order to increase freshwater flow. This decision has thus led to decades of battle over the struggle to restore the ecosystem while maintaining its role as the center of California's water supply.
To make matters worse, the recent wildfires in California diverted precious water away from this river to put out the flames. ESA regulations were temporarily waived so that water could be redirected to life-giving support. This is how climate change leads to compounding problems: More wildfires lead to less water for people, agriculture, and endangered species.
Like so many other species, human actions have caused the problems, so it will take human actions to help conserve and slow the Smeltdown in the delta.
(segment written by Kelsey Bernard)
Is that a house cat? A mountain lion? Or maybe even the mythical black panther?
Under the right circumstances these are all common questions raised among people
that have an encounter with a jaguarundi. These slender, weasel-like cats that stand about 10 inches tall and 40 inches long are nothing short of an extraordinary site. Despite having a wide range that starts as far south as central Argentina up to northern Mexico and possibly into southern Texas- these sleek, solid colored cats are one of the lesser known felids.
Their ability to utilize both open and closed habitats puts them on the leaderboard as one of the most adaptable cats in the world. While they are of least concern throughout northern Mexico and Central and South America, here in North America they have been listed as an endangered species since 1976.
From 1991-2000 approximately 113,126 acres of suitable jaguarundi habitat was destroyed in south Texas. The only US stronghold for the jaguarundi is the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, but it is gradually being developed as human populations increase.
For many years there had been no written recovery plan specifically for the jaguarundi until the Golf Coast Jaguarundi Recovery Plan was created in 2013. People have been taking action to restore critical habitat; planting shrubbery to help encourage the return of the jaguarundi. The USFSW protects unoccupied habitat to help ensure that populations can
expand and connect to one another. The closest known population is about 90 miles outside of the Texas-Mexico border.
Because the jaguarundi lives on the US-Mexico border it is also threatened by a horde of human border activities including immigration, drug trafficking, police and military actions and artificial lighting. The construction of the newly proposed 1,200 mile long wall threatens the future of the jaguarundi and 92 other endangered species by cutting off migration corridors; reducing genetic diversity and destroying habitat.
“For a critter that’s nearly extinct in the U.S., you need to promote connectivity, not curtail it,” Dr. Aaron Flesch, research scientist at the University of Arizona, said in an interview. While regarded as a triumph for the Trump administration, the border wall spells tragedy for border communities and wildlife as the wall continues to be built. This new challenge for wildlife managers has been difficult to mitigate with over 62 laws being waived for construction- including the EPA.
“One of the first things we are demanding when Trump is out of office is a comprehensive
study of how border walls have affected wildlife, affected water and the landscape. We want those studies to identify which areas we should rip the walls out first.” says Laiken Jordahl of the Center for Biological Diversity.
As a country which represents freedom, hopefully more measures will be taken to allow this pretty kitty to freely navigate within the States once again.
(segment written by Kelsey Bernard)
A Fish from the Depths of Hades
In the barren, dusty heat of Death Valley, there lives a fish.
Yes, you heard me right. A fish can and does indeed exist in the middle of the desert. It is aptly named the Devils Hole Pupfish.
About 60,000 years ago, the earth shook in such a way that it isolated a population of pupfish linked to an underground aquifer in the Mojave Desert. Now its own species, this pupfish lives in the extreme conditions of Devils Hole, Nevada. Protected under the Endangered Species Act, millions of dollars have been spent on the protection of this inch-long fish.
In 2016, a group of three drunken men sloppily snuck into the fenced-off habitat and, after one relieved himself (yes, this is all on camera), another man jumped into the shallow pool of this sensitive species, killing one.
Not a big deal, some might think. It’s just one fish! But that mistake cost a man a year in prison and lifetime banishment from federal public lands.
Why even bother protecting them at all? Why spend the money to be wasted on a fish that’s fickle enough for an accident to potentially decimate the entire population, which if glommed together, would be small enough to fit in a picnic basket?
There are a few good answers to this question, but I think Jason Bittel from Natural Resources Defense Council captures it quite well:
“Long story short, here’s a species that has survived in a tiny pit in the desert for 50,000 years, weathering periods of extreme flooding and drought, and enduring food shortages, earthquakes, lack of genetic diversity, and base temperatures hotter than most other fish on this planet can withstand. And now, in the last three decades, humans have messed up the global climate so much, so fast, that this little Rambo of a fish has finally been forced to put on Semisonic’s “Closing Time” and start shuffling toward the door of oblivion.”
Why Protect Endangered Species...and the Endangered Species Act?
There are three main lines of thought:
We should save species merely because they are living things worthy of saving. However, opponents of this view argue that we simply don’t have the resources to save every living species, given how quickly we are losing them. While I wish the planet were perfect and we-- the human species--would save species merely for their own intrinsic value, alas, this is not how the world functions.
By saving one species we are protecting other valuable resources. Take the case of the Devil’s Hole Pupfish (I like to call them homie DHP for short). By protecting the DHP, we also are protecting all the water in the Amargosa Valley Aquifer to be free of pollutants and chemicals. Do ranchers and farmers like this? Surely not. But think about how hard it is to grow crops in the middle of the desert in the first place. I digress. Water conservation is a whole ‘nother ball of wax.
The third view is we should protect species because they might have some value to us humans. Good old DHP might hold some secrets of evolution, specifically aquatic survival in extremely low oxygen content.
But if we only save species that will ultimately save humans, aren’t we missing the point?