Author Archives: Michael Bean

A plume of hope for an endangered bird and its forest

The red-cockaded woodpecker is a keystone species of the longleaf pine ecosystem. (Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region)

In the pine forests of the Southeast, a small black and white bird spends its days hammering out cavities in the trunks of mature longleaf pine trees. The red-cockaded woodpecker is endangered, and its status reflects the condition of the entire forest ecosystem upon which it depends.

It was the gradual but steady disappearance of the region’s unique longleaf pine forests due to increased settlement, timber harvesting and development that initially raised concerns about the decline of the red-cockaded woodpecker population in the 1960s.

Since then, collaborative efforts between the federal government and private landowners initiated an encouraging uphill comeback for the keystone species. Read More »

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The secret survival of the “masked bandit” in the vanishing prairie

The black-footed ferret is known for its bandit-like mask of dark fur around its eyes. (Photo credit: USFWS Mountain Prairie)

The black-footed ferret, nicknamed the "masked bandit" for its racoon-like markings, is one of the most endangered mammals in North America – so scarce it was once thought to be extinct.

The last of the wild population of black-footed ferrets was thought to have died in 1974 in South Dakota, and the last ferret of the captive breeding program died in 1979.

Somehow, though, a number of ferrets were secretly surviving near the small town of Meeteetse, Wyoming.

In 1981, a cattle dog named Shep brought a dead ferret home to his owners. The ranchers took the ferret to a local taxidermist, who identified it as the once “extinct” black-footed ferret.

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How the fastest American raptor nearly nosedived into extinction

“Peregrine” comes from the Latin word for traveler, an apt name for this raptor species. Peregrine falcons are limited only by extreme heat, extreme cold, or exceptionally high elevations. (Photo credit: Beth Fishkind)

The peregrine falcon is renowned for its ability to reach diving speeds up to 200 mph. It’s also known for having one of the longest migrations in North America, reaching up to 15,000 miles.

Peregrine falcons are one of the most widespread birds in the world, found on every continent except Antarctica. This extensive range is what made the American peregrine’s dive into near-extinction so worrying.

The peregrine’s swift descent

Historically, there were estimated to be approximately 4,000 breeding pairs of peregrines in the United States. Despite its eminent speed and strength, the population reached alarmingly low numbers in the 1970s when the bird completely disappeared from the eastern U.S. and only 300 breeding pairs remained throughout the rest of the country. Read More »

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How our nation’s symbol soared back from the brink

The fierce beauty and proud independence of this great bird aptly symbolizes the strength and freedom of America. But as latter-day citizens we shall fail our trust if we permit the eagle to disappear. — President John F. Kennedy

Following the enactment of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, the bald eagle was listed as "endangered" throughout the lower 48 states, with the exception of five states where it was designated as "threatened." Minnesota now has the largest numbers of nesting eagle pairs in lower 48 states. (Photo Credit: Bob Jensen)

In 1782, the bald eagle was officially declared the national symbol of the United States. It became the icon that evoked patriotism – a feeling of strength and power, of independence and courage. At the time, the population was at an estimated 100,000 birds.

In the 20th century, the population of bald eagles fell to dangerously low levels, leading to fears of extinction. Fortunately, decades of recovery efforts brought the species back from the brink – a testament to the meaningful milestones that can be achieved through effective conservation.

How we almost lost the bald eagle

A combination of wanton killing, habitat degradation and use of the pesticide DDT decimated the bald eagle population. The decline likely began as early as the late 1800s, as both eagle prey and eagles were hunted for the feather trade. By 1960, there were only 400 nesting pairs left in the lower 48. Read More »

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