How the Obama Administration Is Protecting America’s Wildlife
Since taking office, President Obama has protected more land and water — over 265 million acres — than any President before him. But his conservation efforts have extended far beyond our natural landscape. In addition to protecting some of our nation’s most iconic and special places, President Obama’s conservation efforts have included wildlife from all across the country.
In fact, the Obama administration has led more wildlife recoveries than any other Administration in history.
Today, on Endangered Species Day, the Council on Environmental Quality is releasing a new white paper detailing the Administration’s ongoing efforts to protect America’s iconic wildlife — as well as successes in species recovery. These actions have benefited some of our most recognizable species, like the black bear and the manatee, as well as many lesser-known, yet critically important ecosystem health indicator species like the Greater Sage-Grouse.
We’ve got 99 wins and the Black Bear is one
Altogether, the Obama administration has overseen 99 successful actions in the conservation of wildlife, many with the help of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). These successes came at different steps in the process — in some instances, species have been removed from the list entirely, whereas in others their populations have stabilized enough to downgrade the seriousness of their endangered status.
No matter how it is counted, however, each step towards recovery of a species is critical, and is a win for that species.
The ESA is a vital tool in the ongoing efforts to protect and secure American wildlife. Signed into law in 1973, it has had a 99 percent success rate in preventing the species listed from going extinct. But just as important, the ESA has also led to critical actions that have rapidly conserved at-risk species before they need to be listed as endangered. Behind every one of those efforts is a story of cooperation, with the knowledge that collaboration at the outset can help boost America’s natural heritage, our economic activity, and our quality of life.
Some of these success stories, like the conservation of the Greater Sage-Grouse and the New England cottontail, were made possible through innovative tools and partnerships developed by a diverse set of Federal, state, local and tribal players throughout this Administration. Others involve heroic efforts carried out over many years, or even decades, with the dedication of multiple agencies and previous presidents. For example, the Louisiana Black Bear — the inspiration for the “teddy” bear famously pardoned by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1902 — was brought back from the brink of extinction over decades, thanks to actions supported by the ESA.
Today’s white paper highlights 99 successful actions — like “downlisting” a species from endangered to threatened or removing it from the endangered species list altogether —accomplished during President Obama’s term.
Some Wildlife Wins that stand out
LOUISIANA BLACK BEAR
When the Louisiana Black Bear was added to the endangered species list in 1992, only 150 bears were left. To enable the species recovery, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked with forest landowners and other private landowners in order to voluntarily restore more than 485,000 acres of bottomland hardwood forests — a key component of the bear’s habitat. Now, after 24 years of this collaborative effort, the black bear has been declared recovered as of March 2016.
FLORIDA GREEN SEA TURTLE
As recently as the 1980s, a national wildlife refuge in Florida showed evidence of only 50 or fewer Florida Green Sea Turtle nests during nesting season. Today, thanks to years of coordinated conservation efforts — including protection of nesting beaches, reduction of fishing bycatch, and prohibitions on the direct harvest of sea turtles — more than 12,000 nests can be found. As a result, these sea turtles were reclassified from “endangered” to “threatened” as of April 2016. Although significant challenges remain in conserving and restoring the green sea turtle population worldwide, this distinct population has been brought back from the brink of potential extinction and is on the road to recovery.
Due to unprecedented cooperation between the federal government, states, private land-owners, local communities and individual stakeholders, the Greater Sage-Grouse — a ground-dwelling bird located across the West on sagebrush landscapes — successfully avoided the need for legal protection under the ESA. In fact, the Greater Sage-Grouse conservation strategy comprised the largest landscape-level conservation effort in U.S. history, with partnerships between more than 1,100 ranchers conserving or restoring 4.4 million acres of habitat. In total, coordinated efforts by all involved stakeholders generated plans that protected 70 million acres of important habitat — which will ultimately benefit more than 350 other rangeland species including mule deer, elk and golden eagles.
NEW ENGLAND COTTONTAIL
The only rabbit native to New England — and the one responsible for inspiring the popular Peter Rabbit stories — the New England Cottontail lost 86 percent of its habitat, resulting in it becoming a candidate for listing under the ESA in 2006. As a result, a number of northeastern states led the charge in restoring cottontail habitat — resulting in a number of voluntary conservation efforts by farmers and landowners across New England. As a result, the Cottontail population sprang back, and in 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the animal would no longer need to be listed.
The Oregon Chub recently became the first fish ever to be delisted because of recovery. Listed as endangered in 1993 due to the construction of dams in its main habitat, the Chub was able to recover, thanks to the coordinated efforts of private landowners and Federal agencies, who worked together to protect existing wild populations, re-introduce the chub into other suitable habitats, and educated the public on how to avoid damaging its limited habitat. In February 2015, the Obama administration announced that the Chub was officially removed from the endangered species list thanks to these efforts.
WEST INDIAN MANATEE
Earlier this year, the West Indian Manatee was proposed to be downlisted from “endangered” to “threatened” earlier this year. This action was a result of coordinated efforts to establish 50 manatee protections areas, reduce warm water outflow from power companies, and retrofit water control structures to reduce manatee fatalities. Today, the range-wide minimum known population is estimated to be at least 13,000 manatees, with more than 6,300 in Florida alone. When aerial surveys began in 1991, there were only an estimated 1,267 manatees in Florida, meaning that over the last 25 years the species has seen a 500 percent increase in its population there. The species was downgraded from “endangered” to “threatened” in January of 2016.
Let the record show
With nearly 2,200 species listed under the Endangered Species Act, we as a nation still have a long way to go towards recovering wildlife near the brink of extinction. And as climate change intensifies, many species will face new threats to their habitats and food sources, which will often force migrations and other changes in populations. A growing human population also means new threats to species and their habitats, as development increases. In fact, a new analysis found that natural areas in the West are disappearing — whether to development or other encroachments — at the rate of a football field every two and half minutes. From a wildlife perspective, that amounts to significant habitat loss in the face of other increasing stressors and threats.
To support the growing need for conservation today to plan for the challenges of tomorrow, the ESA remains a critical and effective tool. The ESA may continue to grow and change, but it is unrivaled in its success in protecting our nation’s iconic wildlife and habitats. With continued federal, state, local and tribal support and cooperation, the ESA remains our best bet for recovering our treasured wildlife — and for achieving future wildlife wins.
You can also support the ESA’s ongoing efforts by lifting up your favorite #WildlifeWin on social media. Post a picture, share a story featuring your favorite recovered species, or follow the US Interior Department and @WhiteHouseCEQ on Twitter.
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