Monday, August 18, 2008

Endangered Species in the DC Area

Delmarva Fox Squirrel / Photo by W. H. Julien (USFWS)

Last week, the Bush administration decided to weaken the Endangered Species Act by allowing every agency to perform its own environmental assessments without needing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's approval. They want us to believe that every agency can protect endangered and threatened species adequately, even though most do not have qualified biologists on staff. Last week's proposal was the latest in a long line of administration actions to undermine the ESA, including inventing procedural rules to prevent new species listings, leaving a long list of species that are worthy of listing but not protected, and interfering in critical habitat designations. There have also been past regulatory changes to weaken the ESA. The current rule change is subject to a 30-day comment period, when began last Friday. I will post more about how to comment later.

For now, I would like to point you to this article. The Washington Post is running a weeklong series on endangered and threatened species in the DC area, with different species profiled each day. Some of the mentioned species are well-known, like peregrine falcon, piping plover, and Delmarva fox squirrel. Others are less familiar, at least to most of us.
They might not all be familiar faces. The manatee, a tropical species, is so unfamiliar here that scientists think it might be responsible for some sightings of "Chessie," the mythical Chesapeake Bay sea monster. The Hay's spring amphipod, a blind shrimp-like creature, has been reduced to living in only a handful of springs in Rock Creek Park.

And the Virginia fringed mountain snail is found only along the New River in the western part of the state. Or, was found. Nobody has seen the snail in years.

Researchers say that, as relics of the natural world that once thrived here, all of these creatures are worth saving. When pollution and silt devastated the populations of tiny mussels across Virginia, for instance, small streams lost much of their natural water filter.

"They're all parts of a functioning system," said Gwen Brewer of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. "When we lose things out of it, it may make us more likely to lose more things out of it" because the system won't work as well as it did.
Currently 73 species found in DC, Maryland and Virginia are listed under the Endangered Species Act. I hope that in the future number is reduced only because species have recovered, and not because they have gone extinct. The administration's proposed rule change makes the latter more likely.