09 Aug 2016 05.21.51 PM
Did you know that there are 400 endangered species living in the nation's 392 parks? Extinction is a real threat to many of the country’s cherished species. Even some of the country’s most well-known national parks are finding that populations of animals native to the area are dwindling. However, despite the survival challenges that many species face, the National Park Service has made the protection of these threatened plants and animals a priority.
ENDANGERED SPECIES IN OUR NATIONAL PARKS
Yosemite National Park - California Despite its status as a World Heritage Site, Yosemite National Park is facing threats to native plant and animal life. Rising temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions are causing problems for the coniferous forests in areas of lower elevation as well as putting the giant sequoia groves for which the park is known for in danger. The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has also reported that mammals in Yosemite National Park have been relocating to areas of higher elevation which poses a threat to the biodiversity the park has been recognized for.
Yellowstone National Park - Wyoming/Montana Sadly, the country’s very first park, Yellowstone National Park, is also one of the most threatened. Rising temperatures are causing invasive mountain pine beetles to infest trees in higher elevations which threatens the survival of the Whitebark Pine which produce nuts essential for the park’s Grizzly Bears. The Grizzly Bears were once listed as a Threatened Species themselves, in 1967, and have since been recovering.
Big Bend National Park - Texas Multiple plant and animal species in Big Bend National Park are listed as protected species. Among these are the black-capped vireo, Mexican long-nosed bat, Big Bend gambusia, Rio Grande silvery minnow, and Chisos hedgehog cactus. The Mexican Long-nosed bat is a species that, in the United States, is unique to Big Bend with just one colony that nests in the Chisos Mountains. They face threats due to the harvesting of agaves, without re-vegetation, for the production of tequila, which is a plant crucial to their survival during annual migration. Once populations decrease, recovery can be difficult because these female bats only produce one offspring annually. In Big Bend, the number of Long-Nosed Bats fluctuates from year to year.
RESTORATION EFFORTS The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was passed by Congress in 1973 in order to protect and recover threatened species and their ecosystems. Under the ESA, species may be listed as either endangered or threatened. “Endangered Species” are in immediate danger of extinction while “Threatened Species”are those likely to become endangered within the near future. Another classification called “Candidate Species” exists for species for which there is enough information to propose them for listing, but have not yet gained either of the other two statuses. The National Park Service works to sustain and recover thousands of populations of threatened and endangered species with the goal of reducing the risk of extinction within the nation’s parks. They also aim to restore species that were once native to a park, but have since vanished from the area.
Endangered Species Day
Celebrated annually in May, Endangered Species Day was established by Congress in 2006 to increase education and awareness for the endangered animals of our nation. . Every year on the third Friday in May and during the rest of the month, zoos, aquariums, parks, botanical gardens, wildlife refuges, museums, schools, community centers, conservation groups and other organizations host tours, lecture series’, exhibits, children’s activities and more to make Endangered Species Day available to the public.
The Channel Island Fox
The Channel Island Fox became an endangered species in 2004, but are now quickly approaching recovery in the Channel Islands National Park. After increased predation from golden eagles, four out of six subspecies of this fox saw population decreases of more than 90%. After a number of golden eagles were relocated to the mainland, the Channel Island Fox has been on the road to recovery.
The Bald Eagle The Bald Eagle has also made a successful recovery. In the 1950’s, the population of Bald Eagles had declined drastically due to exposure to a synthetic pesticide called DDT. After the Montrose Settlements Restoration Program gifted enough funding to establish breeding programs across the country, their populations have steadily risen.
The Bighorn Sheep The Bighorn Sheep once roamed wild amidst the valleys of Oregon. However, over hunting and diseases stemming from the domestication of sheep caused the Bighorn Sheep to vanish from the area in the early 1900’s. Now, after the collaboration of numerous organizations, the Bighorn Sheep has been reintroduced to the hillsides of the West, their populations returning to normalcy.
New Species: The Pseudoscorpion In addition to protecting endangered species, the National Park Service also provides funding for the research of newly discovered species. In 2010, the pseudoscorpion became an official, unique species! The new species, which is unique to Yosemite National Park, was found living amongst the rocks that have fallen from Yosemite Valley’s granite walls. The Yosemite Conservancy, the park’s primary fundraising organization, contributed vital funding for the important fieldwork that led to the discovery of this new Yosemite species. Biologists have now made it a top priority to conduct further research on the park’s cave ecosystems to learn more about the areas where the pseudoscorpion was discovered.
Protecting the native populations of wildlife, and the ecosystems that sustain them, within our national parks is critical to preserving the world’s biological heritage. Before your next visit to one of our beautifully preserved parks, check what efforts are in place to protect endangered and threatened species and see what you can do to help.