by Stan Tekiela
January 23, 2004
Photo by Stan Tekiela©
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) turned 30 years old.
President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) into law on December
28th, 1973. Now some three decades later the ESA is at the center of controversy.
Depending upon whom you talk to, the ESA is either the best legislation ever created
to protect plants and animals or the worst piece of legislation in U.S. history.
In 1967, the Secretary of the Interior listed 78 species as threatened with
extinction under the pre-ESA Endangered Species Act. Today, the U.S. Department of
Interiorís Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) lists 517 animal species and 746 plant
species as endangered or threatened, for a total of 1,263 species listed.
Some biologist estimate there is about 36,500 species of animals and plants in
the United States. So that means that about 3.5 percent of all species in the US
are either endangered or threatened. Some of species include some very high profile
animals such as the Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Manatees, Wolves and the Red-cockaded
Woodpecker. Since the inception of the ESA, according to the FWS, only 15 species have
been removed from the list due to increases in populations. Some of these animals include
the American Alligator, and the Brown Pelican. So, lets take a look at one of the animals
the ESA protects.
There are twenty-one species of woodpeckers in the United States and the Red-cockaded
Woodpecker (Picoides borealis) is the rarest of them all. It is listed as a federally
endangered species. It ranges from the Carolinaís to Florida and west to the eastern
border of Texas.
Unlike other species of woodpeckers, the Red-cockaded Woodpecker excavates its nest
cavities in live pine trees that are at least 60 years old. Most other species use dead
trees to excavate their nest cavity. Presumably this is the reason the Red-cockaded
woodpecker is on the decline. Current logging practices often start harvesting trees
that are 50 years old, leaving precious few stands of old pines for the woodpeckers to
find suitable nesting trees.
The Red-cockaded Woodpecker lives in small social groups (clans) often composed of
family members. A clanís territory can be up to several miles square but mated pairs
will nest within a couple hundred feet of each other. Pairs will remain together
throughout the year, defending their food source and nest site. During winter they
use their nest cavity to rest at night. This is also a very unusual behavior. Most
bird species only use their nests to raise their young and never use it again.
Efforts are now underway to help stabilize the decline population woodpeckers.
Rectangle shaped artificial nest cavities with PVC entrance holes are installed into
live pine trees of suitable size and age. So far, research shows the woodpeckers are
taking well to their new homes. With continued protection and habitat preservation,
the Red-cockaded Woodpecker may be one of those lucky few species that is removed
from the endangered species list.
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