Threat-a-Thon

Defenders’ Center for Conservation Innovation (CCI) hosted its first “Threat-a-thon”, a gathering of staff scientists to classify the many threats facing all 1,662 species protected by the Endangered Species Act, and a day of vindication for imperiled species.

The task was daunting and the hours long. Engaged in battle were our two CCI summer interns, Cora Ottaviani and Cyrus Parvereshi, CCI warriors Mike Evans, Megan Evansen, Jennie Miller, and Matthew Moskwik, and our fearless leader Jacob Malcom. As the sun rose, we gathered our laptops together and used the CCI’s online app ESAdocs Search to mine tens of thousands of pages of ESA-related documents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Our goal was to identify the reasons why species were listed as threatened or endangered (the threats they face), record species habitats, and score species conservation status…for as many species as possible.

Categorizing the data for species can require a few minutes or a few hours, depending on the depth of information available. Canada lynx and chum salmon, both species with implications for industry (timber and fisheries) and, accordingly, extensive documentation — 3 hours. Virginia round-leaf birch, a species for which little is known — 20 minutes. As we waded through species’ natural history, we categorized the odds against them, from habitat shifts because of climate change, to agricultural runoff, to overharvesting. Some of the documents seemed akin to eulogies like Presidio manzanita, a species consisting of a single plant (that’s right, one plant).

Although the topic is sometimes bleak, our team perseveres for the sake of species. Knowing all the threats to ESA-listed species, habitats, and status is critical to understanding the causes of species decline. And once we understand the causes, Defenders works with our partners on creative, effective solutions to conserve our imperiled plants and animals.

As the sun set, we counted our victory at 21 species…only 1,641 species to go! Fortunately, Cora and Cyrus are entrenched daily in the struggle, in a dedicated and determined effort to gather data on species threats over the course of their summer internships. With their help, we will give our nation’s most imperiled species what they deserve: new insights into how to save them.

- Jennie