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Six California Animals Among Top 10 Endangered Species Act Success Stories
LOS ANGELES— A report released today by the Endangered Species Coalition (see PDF) names six animals from California among the greatest successes of the Endangered Species Act, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this month. Two of the animals, the El Segundo blue butterfly and the southern sea otter, are unique to Southern California. Four of the other animals highlighted in today’s report are also found in California — the humpback whale, green sea turtle, peregrine falcon and bald eagle. The report highlights 10 species that are improving or have been recovered under the protection of the Act.
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“In Hollywood rock-star style, these animals are famous for their comebacks. From cute fuzzy sea otters to gorgeous blue butterflies, the Endangered Species Act has helped save some of California’s most amazing wildlife from extinction,” said Tierra Curry, a biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the coalition groups.
More than 1,300 plants and animals in the United States have been protected by the Endangered Species Act, while only 10 have gone extinct, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A recent study found that 90 percent of protected species are recovering at the pace expected in their scientific recovery plan, though the task of bringing back a species from near-extinction typically takes decades.
Background on the Species
El Segundo Blue Butterfly
The El Segundo blue butterfly is found in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties and nowhere else on Earth. The butterfly lost approximately 90 percent of its ocean-side habitat to construction of Los Angeles International Airport and a housing development. Remaining habitat was highly degraded and overtaken by exotic plants that crowded out the butterfly’s host plant. The butterfly declined from about 1,000 individuals in the late 1970s, when it was listed as an endangered species, to about 500 in 1984. It was saved from extinction by restoration efforts that by 2011 had steadily increased the population at the Airport Dunes to 123,000 — an astounding 22,000 percent population increase.
Southern Sea Otter
The southern sea otter is found in shallow waters along the coast of central and Southern California from Half Moon Bay to Point Conception. Sea otters once numbered in the thousands, before the fur trade and other factors reduced their numbers to about 50 in 1914. Listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1977, this remarkable species rebounded to approximately 2,800 individuals between 2005 and 2010.
Peregrine falcons, which can dive at speeds of 200 miles per hour, have rebounded in California and around the country. The U.S. population of peregrine falcons dropped from an estimated 3,900 in the mid-1940s to just 324 individuals in 1975, and the falcon was considered locally extinct in the eastern United States. After gaining Endangered Species Act protections in 1970, their comeback has been truly remarkable — today, there are approximately 3,500 nesting pairs.
The whaling industry dramatically depleted humpback populations from a high of more than 125,000; by the mid-1960s, only 1,200 individuals swam in the North Pacific. After gaining the protection of the Endangered Species Act in 1970, that tiny population of humpbacks has swelled to more than 22,000 members today due to a strong recovery program implemented under the Act.
Bald eagles are now found throughout most of California, but in the early 1960s, the count of nesting bald eagles plummeted to only 480 in the lower 48 states. In 1967 it became one of the nation’s first federally protected species under the precursor to the Endangered Species Act, which was passed in 1973. Thanks to that protection, today there are some 14,000 breeding pairs in the skies over North America.
Green Sea Turtle
Green sea turtles feed in sea-grass pastures in the Gulf of California. After their numbers sank dangerously low as a result of overharvest, they received Endangered Species Act protection in 1978 and began their slow recovery. Though they still face many threats throughout their range, they have made remarkable comebacks in many places including the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge on Florida’s east coast and French Frigate Shoals in Hawaii.
The other four species in the report are the American alligator, Hawaii’s nēnē goose, a plant from New Hampshire called Robbins’ cinquefoil, and the eastern brown pelican. All of the species in the report were nominated by coalition member groups from around the country. A panel of scientists then reviewed the nominations and decided which species to include in the report. The coalition produces a “Top 10” report annually.
Previous years’ reports are available on the coalition’s website, http://www.endangered.org.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.