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The Planet

September 1997, Volume 4, number 7

Introduction to Endangered Species and Habitat Feature

While visiting the past, a time traveler in a Ray Bradbury short story steps on a butterfly. When he returns to the present, he's stunned to see the colossal changes in history wrought by his seemingly minor mistake.

Although that's science fiction, the real-world implications of losing species -- or worse, entire habitats -- are even more alarming. Scientists estimate that we lose up to 100 species a day around the world. That's why the Sierra Club named the protection and recovery of endangered and threatened species and their habitats as one of its conservation priorities for 1997-98.

To call attention to endangered species issues, Club leaders are organizing September benchmark activities including postcard outreach; tabling in high-traffic areas such as zoos, aquariums and festivals; door-to-door literature drops; rallies; and celebrations of special places.

These educational activities are critical to our efforts to remind Americans that humans depend on plants and animals for everything from food to energy sources to medicinal drugs. And habitat is as crucial for humans as for wildlife: Wetlands and forestlands act as a pollution filter for our nation's waters. And, like the canary in the coal mine, many species serve as indicators of the health of the environment around us.

Adopted in 1973, the Endangered Species Act requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (or the National Marine Fisheries Service) to maintain a list of all threatened and endangered species throughout the world. Once a species has been formally listed, it is illegal to "harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect" that species.

The ultimate goal of the ESA is not simply to prevent extinction but also to return species to healthy population levels. To achieve species recovery, the Secretary of the Interior is required to designate critical habitat and to develop a recovery plan based on the best scientific data available "after taking into consideration the economic impact, and any other relevant impact." Is it working? This special report looks at success stories, ongoing efforts, and legislative activities at state and federal levels.

The California condor soars and the eastern timber wolf howls mightily again. But the survival of others "on the brink" will depend on the continuing work of advocates among the human species, with whom they share the planet.

http://www.sierraclub.org/planet/199707/ford.asp


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