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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Agency Extols Endangered Species Act Successes

WASHINGTON (CN) - Collaborative partnerships were key to achieving recent Endangered Species Act successes for downlisted Columbian white-tailed deer and delisted white-haired goldenrod, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.

When an imperiled species is listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a recovery plan is formulated with the aim of ultimately taking it off the federal Endangered Species List, a process referred to as delisting. As recovery efforts begin to pay off for a species listed as endangered, the species' status can be changed to threatened, which is referred to downlisting.

The downlisting of the Columbia River distinct population segment of the Columbian white-tailed deer from endangered to threatened status is due to the combined efforts of the Service and the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, the states of Washington and Oregon, conservation groups, and individuals, the agency said.

"We are gratified by the progress that has been achieved towards recovery of this very important component to our culture," Cowlitz Indian Tribe Chairman William Iyall said. "We began our focus on recovery through a Fish and Wildlife Service Tribal Wildlife Grant in 2008, which we believe forged a positive path towards partnership and recovery."

Though different subspecies of white-tailed deer are plentiful in the eastern United States, the Columbian white-tailed deer is the only white-tailed deer subspecies west of the Cascade mountain range, the agency said, and it is found in only two populations, the Columbia River population in Oregon and Washington and the Douglas County population in Oregon, which was fully delisted in 2003.

"It's gratifying to see the Columbian white-tailed deer improving so well," Loyal Mehrhoff, recovery director at the Center for Biological Diversity conservation group and former field supervisor at the Pacific Islands office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in response to the delisting proposal last year. "Recovery hasn't been easy, but with the help of national wildlife refuges, tribes, conservation groups, states and local landowners the Fish and Wildlife Service stuck with it and got the species on the right track."

That track has been a long one. The deer was originally listed in 1967 under the Endangered Species Preservation Act, and reaffirmed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Conservation Act (ESCA), which both preceded the current ESA. Species on the ESCA were rolled into the ESA when it was enacted in 1973. The deer's loss of habitat due to farming, logging and development caused the population to plummet to 450 deer in 1967.

The Service established the Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge for the deer in 1971, but a recent potential levee failure threatened to inundate parts of the refuge, and 88 of the current population of 900 deer were moved to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge over a three-year period.

"The Pacific Northwest has been a real leader in working to protect and recover species by working with our partners through collaborative conservation. National Wildlife Refuges play an essential role in the recovery of species by providing a safe home base," Michael Bean, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the Department of Interior said. "This major step on the deer's road to recovery reinforces what can be accomplished when we work together."

Collaborative partnerships also facilitated the delisting of the white-haired goldenrod in Kentucky. First listed in 1988, the plant was threatened by trampling from recreational activities, as most occurrences of the plant were within the Daniel Boone National Forest. After the plant was listed, the Service partnered with the U.S. Forest Service and the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission. "Over the last 21 years, the Daniel Boone National Forest redirected trails, installed and maintained protective fencing around sensitive locations where the plant is found, completed numerous back-country patrols near white-haired goldenrod habitats, and placed informational signs at rock shelters, picnic areas, and trailheads to advise the public of the plant and ways to avoid impacting it," the agency said.

The Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission also published fact sheets and posters to educate the public, and conducted multiple intensive range-wide surveys of populations and continuing threats, according to the Service. The agency finalized a cooperative agreement with the National Forest and the Commission at the end of August to provide additional long-term protection in line with the agency's post-delisting monitoring plan.

"This is a great day for the Endangered Species Act and Kentucky's unique natural heritage," CBD's endangered Species Director Noah Greenwald said. "The survival of this beautiful little wildflower is a reminder that we can save even our most imperiled plants and animals when we're willing to use the remarkable tools provided by the Act, which has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of protected species."

The goldenrod delisting is the twentieth species to be removed from the Endangered Species List in the past eight years, the Service said.

"The Endangered Species Act is one of America's most successful environmental laws," CBD's Mehrhoff said. "The majority of the nearly 1,700 species under its care have increased in population size since listing and very few have gone extinct. It took hundreds of years to drive these species to extinction's edge and it's remarkable that, thanks to the Endangered Species Act and lots of hard work, we've pulled them back and put them on a recovery trajectory in just a few decades."

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