Forest Ecosystem Management major, graduating May, 2016
In 1876 the “Southern Herd” of bison was gone. By 1884, all the bison in the country were almost gone. Sad story, huh? Well… yeah it was absolutely because of man’s influence. But, at the low levels left when people stopped hunting them, would they have survived without our assistance? What could have happened if we had left them fail? Maybe natural vegetation throughout the land would have stabilized the soils for forestation or agricultural purposes. We will never know, but the point is… the same people that are saying “hands-off our endangered species” (i.e. WWF) are the same ones that are very “hands on”. Very few of the species we currently have are ones that were here a 10-20 thousand years ago. Heck, we weren’t even the only species of the Homo genus then. Stories of dragons, and beasts, and creatures only stories can capture have riddled our history with mystery. Without proper recording devices or systems, it’s heresay as to if these creatures may have been in existence just 2-3 thousand years ago. That may or may not be true but…1000 years from now, our creatures may be something of myth. Difference is, we have the ability to photograph things, mass produce books across a nation, and see a live bald eagle with the click of a button.
I would never disagree with helping animals that we really messed up, i.e. Bald Eagles with DDT , Passenger Pigeons with our shotguns and who-knows-what’s, you get the picture. These issues should have been addressed, as the Bald Eagle problem was, and they have made a remarkable recovery. The problem here is, these species on the endangered species list have been given special consideration in the making of decisions. There are actually laws in place to protect these animals, and provisions to be followed when encounters with said species occur. A big debate, at least in this class, was the increased concern over bats and white nose syndrome. There are two Pennsylvania species currently listed, the Indiana Bat (endangered), and the Northern Long-Eared Bat (threatened). Regulation (section 188.8.131.52) limits logging within a designated radius from any of the 18 known PA hibernacula, known maternity tree, male capture record, or female capture record. It limits when and where you can use your own land, and the assets within. You can be nowhere near a hibernaculum, but have record of 1 male bat flying by your land and captured within 2.5 miles of your land, and your land now becomes subject to regulation which includes limited cutting times on anything over 5” in diameter (12” is usually the cutoff for marketable trees). Oh and by the way, if any of those trees can be considered suitable for a roost, you have to leave them as well. If you take a look at that species list at the bottom of that link, it bears a striking resemblance to a list of Allegheny hardwood forest species which dominates Pennsylvania forests.
This is of course very biased. I am without a doubt a leaner towards the human aspect, because I’m human. The way I see this issue… as of now only 6 bat species are known to be affected by the white nose syndrome. 6 out of 45 known species! You can’t tell me that with 39 other species left, they won’t expand their ranges in compensation and fill the niche these bats are leaving empty. It is evolution at its finest. I do see the human factor of us contributing to the spread and accelerating the process, but honestly a fungus killing its natural prey has no backing to place 100% blame on humans. Therefore, the blame is not on us, the species will be replaced in nature, and the effects will not have a significant impact on humans and certainly not on nature itself.
This now brings me to the incredible number of current endangered species. Just in the United States alone, we have a listed 490 animals and 728 plants. 490 animals that have gotten so low on numbers, that we have to presumably take action because they serve of some significance to their environments, food chain, or human resource. I however would like to challenge that. I will touch on just a few examples.
Example 1: Ivory-billed Woodpecker. This “holy grail” has been “gone” for over 100 years. In that time there has been no significant habitat changes. There has been no problematic effects that anyone has observed. The niche was easily filled, and life has continued. Yet still this bird is seen in such regard as to spend government funds researching if it may or may not still be in existence. This is not only a waste of time to research but a waste of time and resources to “protect” their natural habitats. This puts strain where strain is not due, for a species who has moved on in the order of the world.
Example 2: San Francisco Garter snake. Okay… why? Is this snake causing a huge loss of anything, or dangerous increase in population of some other species that will not be compensated for by another predator species? Honestly, I can’t tell you, because that is apparently not a criteria for being listed under the endangered species act.
Some are even kind of horror stories for the environment.
Example 3: Northern Spotted Owl. Who knows?! One of those subjects that is fairly evenly supported. So we either did something good, or bad. So, yes we could have done something bad. Learn from this, regardless of the answer we will never all agree on. If you can under-protect, you can also over-protect.
Through these examples I think we can come to the conclusion that we don’t know enough about all of these animals to create such huge leaps in policy to sustain their existence. The creators of the regulations in each of the species, really need to relax. They try to please the loudest voice. This applies to anything political. In this case you would hope science would prevail, unfortunately it remains the same. Wildlife has a louder voice. Not saying they lobby more, but people can relate more to a creature than a tree.
What happens is, people get sidetracked easily. The act should do it’s best to keep us on track. I believe you first should ask five questions about the species.
- Does this animal/plant have a significant effect on its environment?
- Is this animal/plant the main food source, or the main predator of another animal or plant?
- Can another species fill the niche of this species?
- Does this animal/plant contribute to the well-being of the human race?
- Can we sensibly claim fault for this?
Hopefully at this point you see my approach to a solution without the cloud of my anti-endangered species front. I care, but only about things that we either directly impacted, or the loss of would be problematic. I’m not completely heartless, I’m human. There are policy changes that should be made, because for humans to thrive, some species just won’t survive.
But with videos like this, who could ever want to allow for natural extinction?