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Forty years of endangered species act

As he wrote in 1940, some Sunday in January Aldo Leopold would walk his farm land to inform and reassure himself, from tracks or their lack in the snow, of animals still present in the area or newly absent. He did so annually, he stated, because “one appreciates what is left only after realizing how much has already disappeared.”
He looked for “the mincing lady-like tracks of ruffed grouse” and the “hurried wanderings of coons” in the wood lot. In corn stubble by a marsh should be “the peculiar tap-dancing tracks of the prairie chicken” and in a grassy area evidence of “the kangaroo-like springs of the jumping mouse.” Here and there, the river bank should show “the toboggan-slide of an otter playing in the snow.”
Leopold worried about few coons emerging, about flying squirrels, screech and barred owls “eliminated from many a woods” and many counties already being “grouseless.” The jumping mouse and prairie chicken had almost disappeared. Since the latter’s “booming grounds [had been] plowed and their nesting cover pastured,” he wondered if “we shall end with a chickenless state.”
His observations reflect the sentiment about the value of living species, inherently and for people and the natural world, such as often stated by President T. Roosevelt, and as embodied in law by President Richard Nixon on December 28, 1973, in the Endangered Species Act.
Leopold noted the lack, under the tamarack trees, of regurgitated pellets of the long-eared owl.
Since at “three mouse skulls per pellet” this bird is culling 300 mice over a winter’s time, he raised the conservation question: “Is it worthwhile to keep a few tamaracks just to have owls around?”
When signing the ESA, President Nixon stated: “Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed.”
The law’s successes in recovering such wildlife species as the blackfooted ferret, wood stork, California condor and others are known. Of far greater importance yet is its keeping more than 1,500 plants and animals from becoming extinct within our borders.
The Tennessee coneflower, almost extinct in the early 1970s, became the first species from our state to be “listed” under the law. Three decades of protection gave it a new chance at a secure future. De-listed in 2011, this sprightly little sunflower can be seen at the Ardinna Woods Arboretum.
When the Appalachian elktoe was near extinction in 1994, school children in Chuckey urged its protection under the ESA. In letters to the US Fish and Wildlife Service they demanded that, “if people want to see them in years to come they can go see them any time they want to.” Although not yet de-listed as secure, this mussel is present still, helping to cleanse the river’s water in the upper reaches of the Nolichucky.
The Endangered Species law was the people’s fundamental preservation gift to America’s future children. Its enactment forty years ago is an achievement we can be thankful for, and proud of.