Not Endangered Enough

The Department of the Interior recently announced that it would not be listing Greater Sage-Grouse as threatened or endangered, even though the bird, whose population has declined by at least 90 percent in the past century, “warranted” listing. This species joins a long list of birds and other wildlife that are in danger of extinction, but are not quite endangered enough to protect under The Endangered Species Act.

The problems revolve around money. First of all, if a species is listed under the Endangered Species Act, the Dept. of the Interior must develop and implement a recovery plan for that species. This takes a lot of money, and the department already has more species listed than it can afford to protect. Secondly, when a species is listed, that severely restricts the activities that can take place within that species’ habitat. In the case of Greater Sage-Grouse and other prairie birds, cattle ranching, oil and gas development, and wind power development are all limited, with substantial financial repercussions.

And so only those species who are the most critically endangered are listed for protection, and then a mad scramble begins to try to pull these species from the brink of extinction. Sometimes it is too late. In any case, it is much more difficult and expensive to try to save a tiny population than it is to protect a larger one.

So will this process continue as it has, or will we come up with a better plan? Will it get to the point where we will just have to let some species die out so resources can be channeled to other species that have a better chance? Maybe we will decide to work on saving large pieces of ecosystems, rather than concentrating on individual species.

In the meantime, a growing list of species continues on the path to extinction, waiting to reach that critically endangered point where drastic measures will be taken to keep the species from disappearing completely. One of my favorite birds, Lesser Prairie-Chicken, is on that path. Their population is about five percent of what it was, and continues to drop. Their numbers are a small fraction of that of Greater Sage-Grouse, but the species continues to be denied protection under the Endangered Species Act. Their time of listing may be coming, but I fear it will be too late.

Lesser Prairie-Chickens, Morton Co., KS 2007

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