50 Years Of Conservation — And Where We Go From Here – Forbes

The imperiled greater sage-grouse avoided listing as an endangered species after Western landowners agreed on a plan to protect its habitat. Credit: Shutterstock

When the first endangered species list was created 50 years ago, it started out with 78 animals. The grizzly bear and bald eagle were among American icons to make that first list.

Today, it counts 1,400 animals and 900 plants – an expansion that reflects more petitions for listings over time, but also the fact that threats to habitats and ecosystems have become more widespread and complex.

In the early days of the Endangered Species Act, we could more easily identify the threat and go straight to the source. When DDT was thinning egg shells, killing embryos and endangering multiple bird species, we worked to curb applications of the harmful pesticide. After a federal ban against DDT, the problem was solved.

Today, threats are more likely to come from broad landscape changes that occur when growing populations push housing and commercial developments outward, energy development and large-scale farming fragment and encroach on habitats, and climate change-related droughts and wildfires degrade entire ecosystems.

It means the Endangered Species Act, and adequately funded species recovery plans, are needed more than ever before – but also that we must invest in new conservation approaches that help us protect species before they become endangered in the first place.

An airbnb for wildlife

Three quarters of all land in the United States is privately held and, as such, it’s an untapped reservoir of conservation potential.

In the mid-1990s, my colleagues worked closely with farmers and ranchers to develop Safe Harbor agreements to tap into some of this potential. They gave landowners incentives to protect wildlife in return for legal assurances they would be shielded from the burdens of a future listing.

The idea became a national program that now encompasses 4 million acres. While a “big solution,” however, it’s not nearly large enough.

50 Years Of Conservation — And Where We Go From Here – Forbes

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