NPCA submitted the following statement to members of the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries ahead of a hearing scheduled for July 18, 2023.
For 50 years, the ESA has been a critically important tool in the conservation and restoration of the more than 600 threatened and endangered species that depend on habitat in national parks. Through the ESA, Congress set up a comprehensive system where the Secretary of the Interior would use the best scientific and commercial data available to conduct status reviews of species to determine which should be listed as endangered or threatened and receive federal protections and investment towards recovery. Species like the California condor, the humpback whale, and the American alligator have all benefited from the restoration and recovery support the ESA provides.
A history of success
Over 99% of species listed under the ESA have been protected from extinction. Some of our iconic park species, such as the bald eagle, have been so successful in their recovery that they’ve been removed from the list. Just as these species play an important role in national park ecosystems, national parks conserve vital habitats that are key to the continued success and sustainability of Endangered Species Act protections. The following examples demonstrate just a few of the successes achieved in rehabilitating endangered species in National Parks under the Endangered Species Act and its precursors.
Peregrine falcons at Acadia National Park, Maine
One of the world’s fastest birds, American peregrine falcons live primarily along mountain ranges, river valleys and coastlines. Peregrine falcon populations began to decline in the 1950s because of the use of the pesticide DDT and other persistent chemicals. In 1970, the American peregrine falcon was listed as endangered under the Endangered Conservation Act, the precursor to the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
Acadia National Park was selected as a reintroduction site for the peregrine falcon and began a reintroduction program the original reintroduction site for the park, and the first pair of falcons successfully nested in 1991. Acadia’s nesting falcons have become a mainstay in Maine’s recovery of peregrine falcons, and more than 125 chicks have fledged since 1991. Once on the brink of extinction, the peregrine falcon is now a thriving species. The American peregrine falcon was removed from the endangered species list in 1999.
Island foxes at Channel Islands National Park, California
The Channel Island fox lives exclusively on six of the eight Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California. The fox population on each island is considered a unique subspecies, distinguished by both genetic and physical differences. The population began to experience declines when late 19th-century settlers introduced livestock to the Channel Islands. As some of their pigs escaped, the feral swine attracted non-native golden eagles to the islands. Hunting piglets, the golden eagles also developed a taste for the small foxes. Having never developed defensive instincts, the thriving fox population was left exceptionally vulnerable to the new predators. The fox population plummeted by 90 percent to fewer than 200 in the late 1990s. In 2004, the foxes were officially declared endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
Channel Islands National Park established a recovery program to save the island foxes from extinction. The park began a captive breeding and reintroduction effort, removed the islands’ predatory golden eagles, and successfully eliminated the islands’ feral pigs. Because of efforts by the national park and partner organizations, the Channel Island fox population underwent a rapid recovery. Santa Rosa Island’s population of 15 surviving island foxes in 2000 grew to over 800 by 2016. The Santa Cruz population was estimated at over 1500 adults, and the population on the smaller island of San Miguel has increased from only 15 foxes to over 500. In 2016, the foxes of San Miguel Island, Santa Rosa Island and Santa Cruz Island were delisted.
On the path to recovery
However, there is more work that needs to be done. Many national park species are making progress on their path to recovery but they can only be successfully delisted with continued investment of funding from Congress and strong regulations for implementing the ESA. Recovery plans and associated needs are as unique as the species themselves.
‘Ākohekohe at Haleakalā National Park, Hawaii
The ‘ākohekohe, or crested honeycreeper, has a white crest above its bill and black feathers speckled with orange. Only about 7 inches in length, the ‘ākohekohe survives primarily on the nectar of native Hawaiian plants. While ‘ākohekohe were originally found across the island of Maui and nearby Moloka‘i, they are now confined to a small area of Maui within Haleakalā National Park. Nonnative animals, such as pigs, goats and cats, have contributed to the decrease in ‘ākohekohe habitat and populations while human development has also decreased the available habitat.
The ‘ākohekohe has been listed as endangered since 1967 and in 2016, the bird’s population numbered approximately 2,400. Recovery efforts are underway but there are still challenges. The ‘ākohekohe’s existing habitat has been completely fenced to eliminate the threat of pigs and goats, however other pests such as rats and mosquitoes still need to be actively controlled. While potential habitat exists in west Maui and east Moloka‘i, efforts to develop new populations in captivity have not proven very successful.
Topeka shiner at Pipestone National Monument, Minnesota
A small, stout minnow, the Topeka shiner is only 3 inches in length. Schools of Topeka shiner are most often found in cool prairie streams with clean gravel or sand beds. They prefer the open waters of pools and runs, avoiding rough water. Historically the Topeka shiner was found throughout the central Great Plains and western tallgrass prairie regions, stretching from South Dakota and Minnesota south to Kansas and Missouri. When the fish was listed as endangered in 1998, it was occupying less than 10 percent of its original range.
Increases in silt and pollution, the diverting and damming of streams, and the use of water for irrigation for agricultural and urban development have decreased the availability of the cool, clean water that the fish needs. Coordination among stakeholders is helping move the Topeka shiner towards recovery. Local land managers are monitoring populations of Topeka shiners in Minnesota and other states in its range. Coordination between federal and local agencies has helped to limit the impact of threats like groundwater pumping on fish populations. Scientists are also developing a captive population that can be reintroduced to historic habitat.
Spreading Avens at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
Spreading avens is a perennial herb with large yellow flowers unique to western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. The plant grows on mountaintops, exposed to full sunlight. Fifteen populations of spreading avens are known to exist as of 2013. Eleven of those populations are on publicly owned lands or lands managed for conservation.
Habitat disturbance has been the biggest threat to spreading avens, which has been listed as endangered since 1990. Hikers and climbers have trampled the plant’s habitat and contributed to soil erosion. Commercial and residential development have also reduced existing or potential habitat. Efforts to recover spreading avens have focused on monitoring and protecting existing populations and better understanding the plant’s biology, its habitat and the threats it faces. As many of the existing populations are on public land, officials have been able to better protect them from trampling.
The Endangered Species Act is one of our most important laws for safeguarding our national parks and the wildlife that call these places home. The species listed above are just a few examples of how the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other partners at the federal, state and local level have been successfully working together and with private landowners to ensure our most imperiled plants and animals are saved from extinction and put on the path the recovery. As the ESA reaches its 50th anniversary, we urge Congress to deepen our investment in this important program by keeping the law strong and providing the necessary funding to continue this important work.
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Legislative Director, Government Affairs