Understanding Threatened and Endangered Species
December 29, 2010
Jeff Schalau, Associate Agent, Agriculture & Natural Resources
University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County
Many people have heard of a threatened or endangered (T & E) species but they may not know exactly what it means. The term “endangered species” was defined in 1973 when Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This act was developed in an effort to curb the increasing rate of extinction of various living organisms. This act empowered our government to identify those species of plants and animals that should be classified as endangered or threatened based on scientific evidence. Endangered species are those that will probably become extinct unless protected, and threatened species are likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. Species can become threatened or endangered due to: habitat loss; illegal hunting or collection; competition from non-native species; and/or environmental pollutants.
The act prohibits anyone from harassing, capturing, or killing any protected species. It also required that federally-authorized, funded, or implemented actions not jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species. Other sections of the act provided guidelines for the recovery of listed species and encouraged the development of complementary programs by the states. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is the principal federal agency responsible for administering the ESA and they take the lead in recovering and conserving our imperiled species by fostering partnerships and employing scientific research to determine the current status of a given species.
While the process of listing a species (as T & E), called “rulemaking”, can take time and be contentious. The USFWS begins by publishes a notice of review identifying species as “candidates” for listing. Due to large numbers of candidate species, they must also be prioritized according to degree or magnitude of threat, the immediacy of the threat, and the taxonomic distinctiveness of the species. Concerned parties can comment and submit biological information on the species in question. There are time-specific deadlines for this portion of the process and, depending on the level of interest, there may be public hearings. Links to more information on the rulemaking process are below.
Once a T & E species is listed, the USFWS oversees its recovery activities including the identification of critical habitat, monitoring the species’ recovery, providing grants to states to assist in species conservation, and providing biological opinions to Federal agencies on their activities that may affect listed species. As you can imagine, listing of a given species is only the beginning of a longer process that hopefully results in species recovery.
Public land management agencies, tribes, local government, stakeholder groups, and private parties all must obey the law with respect to T & E issues. In Arizona, the Arizona Game and Fish Department assists with T & E species management through their Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Management program (NGEWM). Conservation organizations such as the Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, Audubon, and others often advocate/lobby for species listing/delisting. Similarly, stakeholder groups such as the Yavapai Cattle Growers, Arizona Cattleman’s Association, and Farm Bureau become involved because their livelihoods are often impacted by T & E decisions. With increasing frequency, environmental groups and stakeholder groups are coming together to seek “win-win” solutions to T & E conflicts.
There are several T & E species in Arizona, both plants and animals. Some of the most interesting and contentious are the Mexican gray wolf (E), southwestern willow flycatcher (E), Mexican spotted owl (T), and the Chiricahua leopard frog (T). In Yavapai County, we have the Arizona cliffrose (E), black-footed ferret (E), California condor (E), and several native fish. A complete list of Yavapai County’s T & E species and candidates is linked below.
In Arizona, the bald eagle’s plight has been interesting. While the bald eagle had been listed since 1966, it recovered in the lower 48 states and was delisted in 2007 by the USFWS. However, a legal challenge was filed against this decision in the Sonoran desert region of Arizona and it resulted in exploring the possibility that Arizona has a Distinct Population Segment. While this finding was not conclusive, the Sonoran bald eagle populations are still listed as threatened.
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Listing a Species as Threatened or Endangered (U.S. Fish and Willife Service Publication)
Yavapai County Threatened/Endangered Species List (U.S. Fish and Willife Service Publication)
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Last Updated: December 22, 2010
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