I remember, as a young girl, riding in the car along Hwy 90 in Biloxi, Mississippi and looking out the window across the beach and watching a large, lone bird glide just inches above the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I asked my mom, “What kind of bird is that?” She replied, “That’s a Brown Pelican. Take a good look, because you might not see many more of those in your lifetime.” What followed next was a discussion about how the Brown Pelicans were dying off from the effects of a pesticide called DDT. The pelicans would eat fish contaminated with DDT, which in turn caused the shells of their eggs to become increasingly brittle, resulting in egg breakage during the incubation period.
By 1960 there were almost no Brown Pelican left along the Gulf Coast. In 1970 under a new law that preceded the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Brown Pelican as endangered. In 1972 the The Environmental Proction Agency finally banned the use of DDT. From 1968 to 1980 the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries began a program to reintroduce the Brown Pelican, and finally in 2009 the Brown Pelican population had recovered successfully and was removed from the Endangerd and Threatened Species Act, although in California they are still at risk.
On a recent trip to Alaska I encountered more examples of success stories. On a whale-watching trip in Sitka, not only did I get to see a Humpback Whale bubble-net fishing just yards from our boat, but while circling a buoy, we spotted a couple of Stellar Sea Lions. And although I’m finally starting to spot the occasional Bald Eagle here in the Florida panhandle, in Alaska I was able to spot our nation’s symbol, delisted from the Endangered Species Act in 2007, almost everywhere I went.
Another species poised to make a comeback is the Gopher Tortoise. Although not out of the woods yet in Alabama, Mississippi and eastern Louisiana, great strides are being made with the eastern population of Gopher Tortoises. This keystone species, meaning that other animals depend on it to survive, requires large tracts of undevloped land such as Longleaf pine-flatwoods in order to survive. These same endangered Longleaf pines provide habitat for the endangered Red-Cockaded Woodpecker. As many as 360 species, including some endangered and threatened species, also utilize Gopher Tortoise burrows. Everything is connected.
Right now there is a concerted effort by the House GOP to remove the Endangered Species Act and dismantle the Environmental Protection Act, undoing all of the progress that has been made over the last 44 years. The underlying political agenda behind this is to free up National and Federal lands for logging, mining and drilling for the sole purpose of lining the pockets of Big Corporations. Destroying endangered animals, plants and the ecosystems they inhabit on the whim of corporate greed cannot be allowed to happen. Saving nature and the environment should be among our top priorities and is a reflection of good stewardship and a statement of what we can achieve. Corporations and politics be damned! I’ll take an endangered species over a corrupt politician any day.
How can you help? Write or call your politicians. Donate to organizations that actively fight legislation like Earthjustice.org and Nature.org. Educate your friends and family about the importance of protecting endangered species. One voice can make a difference.