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Our Coal Mine of a Planet’s Canaries are Screaming: Endangered Species’ Day 2024

This Friday, May 17th is Endangered Species Day, and with biodiversity defense at the core of EPIC’s mission, we take this holiday seriously — both as an opportunity to celebrate our collective successes since first codifying endangered species conservation in 1970, and as a reminder of the urgency with which we still need to act, more than half a century later.

More than 1,300 species are listed as either threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA), and about 250 species are listed under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). However, listed species do not accurately represent the overall conservation status of U.S. species, and far more species are actually vulnerable or imperiled — as many as one third nationwide

EPIC has immense appreciation for the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) and U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) — both central parts of our work — and all listed flora and fauna hold special places in our hearts.

See the ESA’s Impact from Space!

The power of the Endangered Species Act can be seen from space! The photo below shows property owned by Green Diamond Resource Company. Do you see the dark green patches of forest, somewhat reminiscent of leaf or blood veins? Those are riparian forests protected by the Endangered Species Act. The 1997 ESA “threatened” listing of coho salmon in Southern Oregon/Northern California created new requirements that forest operations not “take” salmon.

In practice, this “take” avoidance manifests in logging operations being forbidden or significantly restricted in forested buffers near streams and other waterways. By stimulating the protection of adjacent, yet broader, riparian forests, coho salmon are an “umbrella” for terrestrial species that occupy the same habitat. In particular, riparian areas such as these act as habitat corridors for semi-aquatic and terrestrial species migrations. How cool!

The image also shows the limitations of the Endangered Species Act — the majority of the landscape is still highly vulnerable to aggressive, harmful clearcut forestry. 

Umbrella and Indicator Species

Northern spotted owl. Photo by Ryan Kalinowski / USFS.
Northern spotted owl. Photo by Ryan Kalinowski / USFS.

Protections for individual species also protect the myriad of other lifeforms that require similar conditions and habitats. For instance, the northern spotted owl is an umbrella species for all other denizens of old West Coast forests. By protecting the northern spotted owl, we also protect the clouded salamander, Trinity bristle snail, red tree vole, and many, many others. 

Numerous endangered species are also indicator species, helping to alert when something is wrong (like a canary in a coal mine). In addition to their often-significant, and consequently conspicuous ecological roles, because we track endangered species more closely than others, we will often first observe ecosystemic changes through these species. The marbled murrelet, for example, is a useful indicator species for marine health, as we can measure their at-sea abundance over time to determine if something is affecting the associated ecosystem. 

New Threats to North Coast Endangered Species

Marbled murrelet. Photo by Kim Nelson & Dan Cushing / OSU (CC BY-SA 2.0).
Marbled murrelet. Photo by Kim Nelson & Dan Cushing / OSU (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Many federally-listed species that live on the North Coast are threatened with extinction because of habitat loss or degradation associated with extractive industries, from the loss of old-growth forests to sediment pollution impacting our waterways. These historic, long-term issues have not gone away, and the future problems facing wildlife are even more complicated.

New threats, like climate change, are already impacting the North Coast, including larger, more intense and more frequent wildfires and extreme weather events, as well as warming, ocean acidification, and sea level rise. Warming oceans means changes in prey availability for the marbled murrelet and other marine foragers. Increased fire intensity and frequency means more habitat modification for spotted owls and other species endemic to old-growth forests. Warming temperatures mean hotter river conditions for salmon. And so on — this is why EPIC is committed to combating the climate crisis through decarbonization. 


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