Why the Endangered Species Lists Vary Widely

Many people might get confused when they find that an animal on endangered species lists in one state can be so numerous in another state that they can’t be thought of as endangered in any way. This is true of neighboring countries, too. Part of the problem is that the answer isn’t as simple as it might seem that it should be. Still, this disparity can be explained.

The United States uses a couple of different endangered species lists. One of these is a national list, indicating that the animals on it are rare and endangered in all states and territories and the federal government mandates protection. An example of an animal on this list in recent times was the American bald eagle. Though there were several causes, including the widespread use of chemicals like DDT, the eagle has now been removed from the national lists, since it has made an astounding comeback because of laws and efforts on its behalf.

There are also state lists of endangered species. These are maintained by the individual states and the lists can differ greatly from one another. It should be noted that the list doesn’t apply to those animals that haven’t had a breeding population in the state in recent memory or recorded history. For instance, alligators aren’t on the endangered species list for Oregon or Washington State, because alligators are a non-native species. Perhaps a few million years ago when the climate was far warmer than it is today, there were alligators in the region but they have long since vanished, so they have no place on the list.

Man often has a hand in causing the animal numbers of a specific species to dwindle in a given area. However, the actual cause isn’t important in regard to whether or not an animal is placed on the list. Still, the cause can go a long way toward explaining why an animal can be endangered in one state but can be well populated in another.

Just one example of this is the cutthroat trout. In several eastern states, this trout is considered endangered. The most likely cause has been over-fishing and the activities of man, which have destroyed river and stream habitat. In Oregon, Washington and Montana however, the cutthroat is nowhere near being endangered and is commonly fished for, though the fishing is regulated as it is for all game species. In some rivers, cutthroats are found in such great numbers that a four-inch fully mature adult is common, even though these fish can grow to a considerable size if given enough space and food. Fishing pressure is actually helping them to be more stable in numbers and size in some regions, such as those mentioned.

Another example of this is the pronghorn ‘antelope’. This is the fleetest of land animals in North America, and many states have them on the endangered species list. They have few predators now, other than man, and they can outrun almost any other animal. Yet, pronghorns are animals accustomed to the open grazing of grassland. The areas they can do this in have become smaller as man has moved into places that were formerly prime grazing habitat. The pronghorns have become scarce in those areas.

In eastern Oregon though, pronghorn populations have grown substantially. Regulated hunting of pronghorns is now done; to maintain the herds to the point the land can sustain them. They aren’t abundant, but they aren’t endangered, either. Oregon isn’t the only state where this is true.

The simplest answer as to why animals can be considered endangered in one state and not in another can be put simply enough; the habitat and the actions of man vary from state to state. However, to actually understand, a person needs to have a bit of knowledge in what being endangered means and how much power each state has to enforce and decide upon its own lists.

This is true of other countries, as well. This is why there are animals on endangered lists in England that aren’t endangered in France, though the two are separated by only about 25 miles, the breadth of the English Channel.

What do you think?

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Written by Rex Trulove

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    • That is something that is puzzling to a lot of people. It is one reason I sometimes almost cringe when I hear someone say that some animal is on the endangered species list, but don’t specify which list it is on. In fact, when people don’t realize that there are many lists, they can disregard an endangered listing because they might notice large, healthy populations of the same species somewhere else.

    • That is probably because most people refer to a list — singular. There are actually many and that can really mix things up. The federal list is the most important in the US, but the states are free to put whatever animal they deem fit to be on an endangered species list, on their own. That is as it should be since each state is normally better informed in regard to what animals are scarce within their borders.

      It should be mentioned that the same is true of invasive species lists.

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