The trouble with lists

Posted January 18th, 2010 by kcorliss. Comment (0).

From Pennsylvania (specifically the newsobserver.com) comes a very interesting article, titled, Quirky conservation lists don’t protect rare birds, scientists say. The story was gleaned from the online journal, PLos ONe.

Basically researchers are saying lists of endangered birds (or any species) on state or federal levels appear not to be totally effective:

The problem is that state lists, given their limited geographic scope, often do not reflect the broader reality, the researchers found.

In a study of 48 states, the researchers discovered numerous instances where species that are nationally abundant were listed because, in the state, they were rare.

Conversely, birds that may be in trouble nationally, such as the cerulean warbler, might not be listed because they are considered numerous in a particular state.

There is even a quote which included "North Dakota" in it, and offers a good example of what they are talking about:

"We’re down to one site for black terns," he (Dan Brauning, wildlife diversity chief with the Pennsylvania Game Commission) says. "What are we going to do, ignore it because it’s fairly common in North Dakota? No."

Apparently black tern is on Pennsylvania’s endangered list or something. I’d only say one thing about this quote. "Fairly common" does not even begin to describe the abundance of this wetland nesting bird in North Dakota. They are here by the tens of thousands every summer.

I’m glad folks are shining a brighter light on this issue. Listing, by itself, does nothing. It’s the regulatory strength listing brings to the table which bares teeth. Still, this system is flawed in my opinion. Listing endangered species narrows the focus too tightly. Instead of affecting an effort to "save" or "preserve" this or that critter, way more attention should be being paid to systemwide conservation. Habitat set-asides (such as CRP) and permanent greenways are just two tools which pave the way to more comprehensive conservation. Think forest, not individual trees. I’ve said it a hundred times but I’ll say it again, habitat is everything. Saving an individual species is akin to putting it in a zoo if the critter isn’t surrounded by appropriate habitat.

Here’s a guy who gets close:

Eric Stiles, vice president for conservation and stewardship for New Jersey Audubon, says the new conservation ethic – one the state wildlife action plans help foster – is to look not merely at birds on the brink, but "suites of species" that occupy the same habitat.

Saving a marsh, for instance, can benefit not just the most endangered species in it, but all of them.

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