Pre-Visit Lesson Endangered Species On the Brink of Recovery

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1 Pre-Visit Lesson Endangered Species On the Brink of Recovery Grade Level: 8-10 Summary: Students will read an article describing how the Endangered Species Act became law and the various components contained in it. Teaching Methods: Discussion, Reading Time: Preparation Time: 15 minutes Activity Time: 40 minutes Materials: Endangered Species Act Handout Objectives: Students will identify at least three components of the Endangered Species Act. PA Environment & Ecology Standards: Threatened, Endangered and Extinct Species C. Identify and explain why adaptations can lead to specialization Environmental Laws and Regulations A. Explain why environmental laws and regulations are developed and enacted. Other PA Standards: Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening Background: In 1973 Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) after recognizing that many of the nation s plants and animals were in danger of becoming extinct. The purpose of the ESA is to conserve the ecosystems upon which endangered and threatened species depend and to conserve and recover listed species. Under the law, species may be listed as either endangered or threatened. Endangered means that a species is in danger of becoming extinct and threatened means a species is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future. All species of plants and animals are eligible for listing except for pest insects. The ESA is administered by the Interior Department s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Commerce Department s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)-Fisheries. The FWS has primary responsibility for terrestrial and freshwater organisms, while the NOAA- Fisheries responsibilities are mainly marine resources and their habitats. The law s ultimate goal is to recover species populations so they no longer need protection under the ESA. There are over 1,200 threatened and endangered species in the United States. Most of the recovery success falls between the goal of full recovery and the intermediate goal of a stabilized population to prevent imminent extinction. The FWS has reported over Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of State Parks 1

2 500 U.S. species in stable or improving status. While this number represents only one-third of the full list, it demonstrates that the status of many species is improving. However, while there are successes, there are also many species that need more help. At last count, the FWS reported 417 species that are still declining. The difficulty of saving a species varies from species to species, depending on: 1) the status when recovery efforts begin, 2) the knowledge of the species life history and the threats it faces, 3) the complexity of necessary recovery actions, 4) the financial resources and other resources available, and 5) the level of public support for recovery of the species. Recovery is on the horizon for many species on the list. Ninety seven percent of U.S. species on the list as of September 30, 2002 still survive and many of them are headed toward recovery. Continued success depends on society s commitment to conserving species and willingness to invest time, funds, and other resources for their recovery. Getting Ready: Copy the Endangered Species Act handout one per student. Note: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website listed in the References section has the most updated endangered and threatened species list. Activity: 1. Tell the students that they will be going to Presque Isle State Park to study an endangered species the Great Lakes piping plover. Before they go, they need to learn more about the Endangered Species Act and why it became a law. 2. Pass out the Endangered Species Act handout to each student. Ask them to read it and discuss with them the various components of the law. Points of discussion: How has the Endangered Species Act changed over the years? Have improvements been made? Explain the Take prohibition. The ESA prohibits the take of listed species, defined as actions to harm, harass, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, trap, capture, collect, or kill a species. A take also includes actions that significantly modify habitat in a manner that would lead to the injury or death of a listed species. The take prohibition covers both federal and non-federal parties, including state and local governments and private companies. Explain why Critical Habitat is important to the survival of imperiled species. What does a recovery plan encompass? Discuss why each part is important. A recovery plan includes a range of actions that will help a species recover. These may include land acquisition and management, landowner agreements that preserve or enhance habitat, captive breeding, habitat restoration and protection, population assessments, research, technical assistance for private landowners, and public education programs. Why would recovery plans be difficult to implement? Of the 1263 U.S. species listed as endangered or threatened, 999 (79%) have approved recovery plans in place as of April 30, Because there is no tracking mechanism concerning implementation of recovery plans, it is difficult to say how many of the conservation measures called for in these plans are actually being carried out. Partly due to lack of funding and partly due to lack of an enforcement mechanism, recovery plan implementation does not currently receive a lot of attention from the Services. What are some benefits of habitat conservation plans? They encourage dialogue about species conservation between landowners and government agencies, and often the public, and they often call for productive conservation measures. What are some risks associated with habitat conservation plans? They allow certain amounts of habitat destruction and provide long-term assurances that landowners will face no additional obligations under the ESA often limiting the Services ability to take remedial measures if the landowner s activity proves to be more harmful than initially anticipated. Hundreds of plans that cover millions of acres have been approved in the last few years. Due to the absence of strong monitoring measures, it remains unclear what species conservation benefits have resulted from these plans. If the students had an opportunity to make changes to the ESA, what changes would they make? Evaluation: Students discuss the Endangered Species Act: how it has changed over the years; components of the ESA; pros and cons, etc. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of State Parks 2

3 References: Motivans, Karene, Balis-Larsen, Martha, Species on the Brink of Recovery, Endangered Species Bulletin, Miller, Martin, Three Decades of Recovery, Endangered Species Bulletin, Council for Environmental Education, National Wildlife Federation, Project WILD, Science and Civics: Sustaining Wildlife, The Law: Before and After, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Environmental Defense, Endangered Species, Endangered Act? by Michael Bean. Endangered Species Act National Wildlife Federation, The Endangered Species Act: Safety Net for Wildlife. Developed By: E-Concepts LLC, Albert, JoAnn and Davis, JoAnn, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of State Parks 3

4 The Endangered Species Act The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is the nation s primary tool for conserving imperiled plants and animals. Currently over 1,200 U.S. species are listed as either threatened or endangered. Two federal agencies exercise primary responsibility for administering the ESA. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in the Interior Department is responsible for terrestrial (land) and freshwater species. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the Commerce Department is responsible for marine resources and their habitats. More than 90 percent of species currently protected by the ESA are the responsibility of the FWS. Species protected by the ESA are either endangered (in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their range) or threatened (likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future). Until a species is recognized as one of these, it receives no protection through the ESA. The first federal endangered species legislation was passed by Congress in 1966 but few people noticed and still fewer objected. A year later, the first official list of endangered species was compiled by the government. Species on the first list included popular animals such as the black-footed ferret, the Florida panther, the whooping crane, the bald eagle, and the California condor. The 1966 Endangered Species Preservation Act did little to protect the species but simply authorized the creation of an official list of endangered species and the development of a largely discretionary program to conserve them. Three years later federal legislation prohibited the importation of endangered species but did little else. It soon became understood that the scope of species endangerment was far broader, the cause of extinction more serious, and the challenge of protection far more difficult than previously understood. In 1972, President Richard M. Nixon gave an environmental speech to the nation and acknowledged that even the most recent act to protect endangered species, which dates only from 1969, simply does not provide the kind of management tools needed to act early enough to save a vanishing species and called for a stronger law to protect endangered species of wildlife. On the opening day of the 93rd Congress, a bill was introduced that the House would pass only eight months later by a margin of 390 to 12. A similar bill was introduced through the Senate by a vote of 92 to 0. On December 28, 1973, President Nixon signed the stronger law that he sought. Nobody, including the President and Congress, would quite understand how much stronger it would be. What they did know, was that it contained major changes from the two prior laws. First, every plant and animal was now potentially eligible for protection; previously, only vertebrates, mollusks, and crustaceans could be considered endangered species. Second, the species eligible for protection now included subspecies and even discrete populations (later, this would only apply to vertebrates). Third, the law would now protect not only endangered species, but species likely to become endangered, otherwise known as threatened species. These changes caused two major consequences to occur. First, the list of federally endangered species would increase dramatically from the 114 that existed in Second, it would not only include vertebrates, mollusks, and crustaceans but would also include plants, insects, and other organisms far less familiar than what was found on the original list. Although the expansion of the size and diversity of the protected list were important changes, they were not the only ones. The protection of the species was also significantly changed. One of these changes was the Take prohibition. The ESA prohibits the take of listed species, defined as actions to harm, harass, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of State Parks 4

5 The Endangered Species Act, Page 2 pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, trap, capture, collect, or kill a species. A take also includes actions that significantly modify habitat in a manner that would lead to the injury or death of a listed species. The take prohibition covers both federal and non-federal parties, including state and local governments and private companies. Critical Habitat Federal agencies were required to protect endangered and threatened species. Every federal action taken (including timber sales from federal lands, issuance of permits to fill wetlands, dam construction, funding of highway projects, etc.) had to be scrutinized to determine if any species would be affected. Their actions also had to ensure that habitat for listed species was not modified or destroyed, if it was determined to be critical to the health of a species. On private land, where no Federal involvement existed, a critical habitat designation had no regulatory impact. Critical habitat is defined in the Act as: the specific areas within the geographical area currently occupied by a species, at the time it is listed, on which are found the physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the species, and which may require special management considerations or protection, and specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by a species at the time it is listed. Virtually every study of the conservation of imperiled species considers habitat as a major component in a species conservation and eventual recovery. The very purpose of the Act is to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species depend may be conserved. Habitat considerations are prominent in all recovery plans, and recovery plans include maps and descriptions of the habitat needed to recover the species. Recovery Plans In order to systematically organize its efforts, the FWS required that recovery plans be developed for imperiled species. Typically, recovery plans are written by biologists within the FWS. The first mention of recovery plans was added to the law in It did little more than require that the government develop such plans. In subsequent years, addendums have been added that are more descriptive, such as spelling out the types of species to which priority is to be given in preparing plans, specifying the necessary elements of each plan, requiring cost and time estimates, and mandating planning procedures. Recovery plans usually include a wide range of actions that will help to recover a species. These may include land acquisition and management, landowner agreements that preserve or enhance habitat, captive breeding, habitat restoration and protection, population assessments, research, technical assistance for private landowners, and public education programs. Recovery plans are blueprints for private, federal, and state cooperation in the conservation of threatened and endangered species and their ecosystems. Species Reintroduction In 1982, a provision was added to the ESA that authorized the establishment of experimental populations of endangered species under rules that are less restrictive than those normally applied to endangered species. This provision was added because many endangered species populations are so diminished that the only hope for recovery is to reestablish them where populations previously have occurred. For some species such as Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of State Parks 5

6 The Endangered Species Act, Page 3 the gray wolf in Yellowstone, the California condor, and the red wolf in coastal North Carolina, these experiments have proven to be very successful. Habitat Conservation Plans Since 1982, the ESA has authorized the issuance of permits allowing for the taking of endangered wildlife that may relate to an otherwise lawful activity. As a result, logging, land development, and other land uses that result in taking endangered wildlife can be permitted. To obtain a permit, an applicant must submit a habitat conservation plan to the FWS (or NOAA). A habitat conservation plan is a plan in which landowners agree to conservation measures in exchange for a permit to take listed species in connection with economic activity. Approval of an application is based on several findings. The most important of these are that the plan will not diminish the prospects for survival and recovery of the species to be taken and that the impacts of the taking will be minimized and mitigated. Myths and Reality There many misconceptions about the Endangered Species Act. According to the National Wildlife Federation the following are some common myths and the reality behind them. THE ESA AND PRIVATE PROPERTIES Myth: The ESA gives the federal government the power to snatch away people s private property. Reality: Except in one unusual case involving water rights, no federal court has ever found that the ESA has lead to an unconstitutional land grab. Success or Failure? Myth: The ESA is a failure because it has led to the recovery of only a handful of species. Reality: The ESA is like an emergency room: it only handles urgent cases. The success of an emergency room is measured by whether the patient s condition is stabilized or improved to the point where recovery is possible with further care. Applying the same definition, the ESA has been remarkably successful: As of 1996, 37 percent of all threatened and endangered species were on the rebound. Nearly half of the species that had been on the list more than seven years were stable or improving. The longer a species enjoys the ESA s protections, the more likely its condition will stabilize or improve. Junk Science? Myth: The process of listing species under the ESA is based on faulty and incomplete science, which leads to the listing of species not needing protection. Reality: Studies reveal that most species are not listed until their numbers are perilously low. A 1995 Science magazine article reports that the median number of surviving individuals at the time of listing is 1,000 for animals, and just 100 for plants. Protecting species before they reach the very brink of extinction would be more effective and cheaper. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of State Parks 6

7 The Endangered Species Act, Page 4 Job Killer? Myth: The ESA puts plants and animals above people, costing us money and jobs. Reality: The ESA explicitly requires balancing species protection with people s economic needs. Once a species is listed, the ESA requires that people and the economy be considered at every stage including the designation of habitat, the development of regulation, and the creation of alternatives. Plus, the ESA actually helps the economy by protecting the ecosystems that provide food, medicine, flood protection, and recreation. A Chokehold on Development? Myth: The ESA brings construction and development to a halt. Reality: Of more than 219,000 development projects reviewed under the ESA between 1998 and 2001, less than one percent were found to potentially jeopardize listed species and most of these were allowed to continue after including reasonable alternatives to minimize environmental harm. Too Expensive? Myth: Protecting endangered species is an expensive luxury we can t afford. Reality: Extinction is something we can t afford. Biodiversity provides us with priceless benefits from supplying lifesaving drugs to maintaining natural ecosystems and recreational lands. In 2003, the amount we spent to implement the ESA was $126 million - the same cost as 13 miles of a four-lane federal highway. The ESA was last updated in It was scheduled to be updated again in 1992 but since then Congress has not been able to agree on the future of the law. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of State Parks 7

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