What are Endangered Species?
Extinction of a species could potentially mean the loss of a cure for cancer, a new antibiotic drug, or a disease-resistant strain of wheat. Each living plant or animal may have values yet undiscovered. Scientists estimate there are thirty to forty million species on earth. Many of these species are represented by dozens of genetically distinct populations. We know very little about most species; less than two million are even described. Oftentimes, we do not even know when a plant or animal becomes extinct. Game animals and a few insects are watched and studied. Other species need attention too. Perhaps in them may be found a cure for the common cold or a new organism that will prevent millions of dollars of loss to farmers in their constant fight against crop diseases.
There are many examples of a species' value to society. An antibiotic was discovered in the soils of the threatened New Jersey Pine Barrens Natural Area. A species of perennial corn was found in Mexico; it is resistant to several diseases of corn. An insect was discovered that when frightened produces an excellent insect-repelling chemical.
- Habitat Loss
Habitat protection is the key to protecting our rare, threatened, and endangered species. A species cannot survive without a home. Our first priority in protecting a species is to ensure its habitat remains intact.
Habitat protection can be done in a variety of ways. Before we can protect a plant's or animal's habitat, we need to know where this habitat is found. The first step, then is to identify where these vanishing species are found. This is being accomplished today by state and federal agencies and conservation organizations.
Second to identification is planning for protection and management. How can the species and its habitat be best protected, and once protected, how can we make sure the species continues healthy in its protected home? Each species and habitat is different and must be planned on a case-by-case basis. A few protection and management efforts have proven effective for several species, however.
Legislation was passed to protect the most endangered species in the United States. These special species cannot be destroyed nor can their habitat be eliminated. They are marked in the endangered species list by an *. Several federal and state agencies are beginning to manage threatened and endangered species on public lands. Recognition of private landowners who have voluntarily agreed to protect rare plants and animals is underway. All these efforts need to continue and be expanded to keep our natural heritage alive.