May 16, 2014 will be the 9th annual Endangered Species Day, a day set aside by the U.S. Congress to celebrate biodiversity and the efforts that preserve and protect threatened and endangered species.  Why exactly are species identified as threatened or endangered?  Why is it important to protect them?  And what kinds of things can we do every day to help protect them?

Congress created the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973 to recognize and preserve our diversity of plants and animals that have “aesthetic, ecological, educational, recreational, and scientific value to our Nation and its people.”  The ESA was established to identify plants and animals that may be threatened or endangered.  A “threatened” species means that is likely to become endangered.

If a species becomes “endangered,” that means it is in danger of becoming extinct through all or a significant portion of its natural range.  According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are currently about 173 animal and 154 plant species listed as threatened and 457 animal and 703 plant species listed as endangered.


Some of North America’s endangered species

Some of North America’s endangered species. Clockwise from upper left: Florida panther, Yellow-shouldered blackbird, Loggerhead sea turtle, Gila trout, Kauai digit fern, Grizzly bear. 

Photos: Cougar – Bas Lammers; Bear – Dmitry Azovtsev; Bird and fish – US Fish and Wildlife Service; Fern – Davit Eickhoff; Turtle – Ukanda.  All images were from Wikipedia Commons


It may surprise you to know that we have one threatened and one endangered species at the Watershed Sanctuary in Cave Springs, Arkansas!  The Ozark cavefish is considered a threatened species and makes its home in the cave nestled at the spring on the east side of the Sanctuary grounds.  The federally endangered gray bat also uses the cave as a maternity colony from late March to early October.


Two of the Watershed Sanctuary’s residents

Two of the Watershed Sanctuary’s residents, the threatened Ozark Cavefish and endangered Gray Bat.

Photos: Fish – Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, Bat – Adam Mann, Environmental Solutions and Innovations


Each plant and animal, no matter how small, fulfills a special role in its environment.  All of the different plants and animals together contribute to an environment’s variety of species, often referred to as its “biodiversity.”  When a plant or animal species is removed from an environment the biodiversity of that environment decreases.  The loss of some species can have modest effects on an environment while the loss of others can have big impacts.

In some cases, the loss of one species can create a chain reaction that further affects the biodiversity in an environment.  For example, wolves were wiped out in Yellowstone National Park.  As the wolves disappeared, other changes began to take place in the park.  Elk numbers increased to the point where they were overbrowsing the vegetation, causing a loss of riparian plants and mature aspen trees.  The number of coyotes rose, increasing predation on small mammals and increasing competition with other animals such as foxes and hawks.  Since the reintroduction of the wolf in 1995, Yellowstone has experienced a recovery in the biodiversity of its environment.


Conditions at Yellowstone National Park before and after the reintroduction of wolves

Conditions at Yellowstone National Park before and after the reintroduction of wolves.

Photo: National Geographic


With so many threatened and endangered species, it can seem like a big challenge to do something to help, but even small efforts can result in big changes!  Water quality issues and habitat loss are two of the biggest threats to protected plants and animals but you can help protect them even in your house or back yard!

Some of the things you can do at home and in your community include:

  • Using less water by taking shorter showers
  • Turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth
  • Installing rain barrels and rain gardens
  • Planting trees and shrubs to improve riparian buffer zones
  • Being mindful of herbicide and pesticide use
  • Planting a butterfly garden or bird garden
  • Promoting the use of Low-Impact Development (LID) measures in your community.


Do you have some ideas for ways you can help protect threatened and endangered species and improve habitats in your area?  We at the IRWP would love to hear about them!  

to let us know!


Related posts:

The Blind Ozark Cavefish – A Threatened Species

Clean Water Raingers: Getting to Know Our Bats

The Endangered Gray Bat Prepares for Winter