“Can he who has discovered only some of the values of whalebone and whale oil be said to have discovered the true use of the whale? Can he who slays the elephant for his ivory be said to have ‘seen the elephant’? These are petty and accidental uses; just as if a stronger race were to kill us in order to make buttons and flageolets of our bones; for everything may serve a lower as well as a higher use. Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine-trees, and he who understands it alright will preserve it’s life than destroy it.” – Henry David Thoreau, The Maine Woods
Selected Sympathy Towards Certain Species
When many of us hear a baby crying, we may feel a sudden urge to comfort it, to relieve its pain and to see a smile return to his or her face.
Yet how do we feel towards an animal, let alone a wild animal or wildlife that’s suffering? I believe most of us are empathetic and hate seeing any animal suffer, whether it’s our own pet or a wild animal. When we see a deer that’s been hit by a car we can sense its pain as sharply and as non-distinguishably as if our own dog or cat was injured.
Helping a wild animal in need can have legitimate concerns such as the spread of zoonotic diseases which can be passed from animal to person or the animal rightfully defending itself and injuring us as we try to help it.
Speciesism is the practice of discriminating against certain animals on the sole basis of their species. I’ve always felt that all animals are an extension of us and the way we treat certain species worse than others is inherently wrong. Does a species we consider to be “wild” suffer or feel pain any less than our own pet dog or cat?
I believe that all species deserve our respect, no matter whether they are domesticated or wild or a preferred species or not.
As with other important topics, as we can look at wildlife management practices from the viewpoint of federal and statewide levels, we can see that our personal views can be wildly different from the views of our government. The truth is that there are few resources available to helping wildlife beyond federal and statewide protections – of which are very valuable. Despite these protections, providing care for sick or injured wildlife is still especially difficult to do.
I predict that the topic of wildlife management practices will gain increasing importance as we continue to expand and our actions to the planet intentionally and unintentionally continue to impact the many species we share our home with.
The Importance of Wildlife
Scientists estimate that there are approximately 7.7 million species of mammals on this planet with a total of 8.7 million species of mammals, plants, fungi, protozoa, chromista. We’ve only identified and classified close to 1.2 million total species. This means that only 14% of all species have been identified and classified, and 86% are still unknown to us – this is amazing.[i] An even smaller portion are actively monitored and labeled as endangered. Sadly, the impact we’re causing to the Earth today will cause detrimental effects to species we’re not even aware exist.
The U.S. is home to more than 100,000 species of mammals, reptiles, fish, insects, birds. Specifically, there are 432 species of mammals in the U.S., 15% of which are endangered.[ii]
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was established in 1973 under the leadership of President Richard Nixon to protect species from extinction who faced threats to their survival from disease or predation, habitat loss, overconsumption by commercial or recreational uses or by other human-caused threats to their populations. Animals added to the Endangered Species List gain extra protection against hunting and habitat loss which is critical for allowing their numbers to regrow. The goal for every animal on the list is to eventually get off the list once their numbers rebound and stabilize. These protections also apply to plants, insects, amphibians, fish, and birds.
Unfortunately, our history has proven that we’ve not been too kind to our own wildlife. The American Gray Wolf, an ancestor to all breeds of domesticated dogs were hunted, trapped and poisoned beginning in the 1880s and lasting until 1974 when they were added to the Endangered Species Act and received federal protections. Farmers sought to eradicate wolves because they threatened their livestock, however, they were in general, despised. By the time they gained federal protections, populations had been killed off in 95% of their original ranges.[iii]
The isolated National Park, Isle Royale, is an archipelago within Lake Superior between the border of Michigan and Canada that houses the largest long-term study on predator-prey relationships to date. Wild wolves and moose were studied. Wolves were found to be necessary to control moose populations, which if they got too large would destroy native vegetation. Wolves kept populations in control and also picked off sick animals which prevented diseases from taking a stronghold. Without wolves, moose would overwhelm the island’s delicate ecosystem. This study showed how the role each animal plays is vital to the delicate balance of our ecosystem.[iii]
Other animals brought back from the brink of extinction through the Endangered Species Act include the Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon, both of which were strongly affected by the pesticide DDT which weakened their eggshells to the point where they would break when the mother birds incubated them. Grizzly bears were also hunted to near extinction and The American Alligator and Whooping Cranes were hunted for their skins and feathers. Membership on the list saved all of these populations.[iv]
It’s too bad that a species has to be threatened before federal action is taken. If an animal goes extinct, it’s an irreversible loss to not only the species but to the greater ecosystem and environments.
The effects of extinction of wildlife include:
Exacerbation of global warming by habitat loss with the extinction of plant species
Loss of potential live-saving cures derived from plants
Ecological systems torn apart and species populations becoming unbalanced
Loss of economies built around wildlife watching
Reduction in the beauty and awe of our natural settings
Many species will continue to face the effects of human encroachment that include noise pollution of the sea, land and air, habitat loss, the effects of climate change, sound pollution within our oceans, the spread of disease, and the introduction of non-native species such as livestock and even deadly funguses from international travel and trades.
How does the government protect native species?
The National Park Service (NPS) was created in 1916 under President Woodrow Wilson in order to manage our public lands which house thousands of species of wildlife, and also to entrust their care so that future generations can enjoy them.
During President Theodore Roosevelt’s 8 years in office, he set aside 230 million acres to public lands which is the equivalent of a land mass from Maine to Florida.[iii] Today we have over 6,770 national parks or protected areas and 1 million square miles of dedicated lands.
National parks not only offer sanctuary space to countless species of wildlife but provide economies and places of retreat for humans. In 2013, the National Park Service received 273 million visitors in 2013, almost the equivalent of every U.S. citizen visiting a park at least once. This activity produced $14.6 billion in revenue in surrounding communities and contributed $26.5 billion to the economy and created 238,000 jobs.[iii]
We can thank The National Park Service for protecting the California poppies from being stampled on by selfie-seeking tourists during our recent super bloom. The National Park Service manages and protects our national treasures so future generations can enjoy them.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS or FWS) is an agency of the US Federal Government dedicated to the management of fish, wildlife and natural habitats. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service works to manage fisheries and migratory birds, restore habitats and also works internationally to help governments to manage their own conservation efforts. At the time of this post, they are facing a leadership conundrum. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service also enforces The Endangered Species Act.
These federal protections are important as states can enforce varying degrees of protections. This is why gaining federal protection on the Endangered Species List is so crucial for threatened wildlife.
As our own species continues to expand, the interactions between people and wildlife will only continue to intensify. In most cases, wildlife will be on the losing end, whether it’s from pollution, deforestation, increased traffic, fishing, hunting, or trapping. This is why increased protections from both state and federal levels, making efforts to reduce our own impacts on the planet, as well as increasing education about wildlife conservation, will become increasingly important.
What can individuals do to help wildlife?
Beyond federal policies, our daily choices such as eating a more sustainable plant-based diet and reducing the amount of trash we produce and gas we consume, can all help to reduce our impact on the environment which means we can leave a better place behind for future generations of people and wildlife.
To recall the start of this post in which I mentioned the deer who’s been hit by a car. This happens quite often in areas with high deer populations. Or we live by the beach and find an injured seabird?
What happens if we see an injured wildlife?
Wildlife sadly have few options when they become injured, diseased or poisoned. Most veterinary clinics, humane societies and animal control offices have no resources or the ability for long term care and rehabilitation for wild animals.
As Long Beach, Animal Care Services puts it, “Healthy wildlife avoids contact with people.” Animal controls centers exist to manage the interactions (minimizing them, really) between animals and humans.[v]
Most centers are either required to arrange for them to go to a wildlife rehabilitation center (if there is one available) or the animals are required by law to be humanly euthanized, according to the Squirrel Refuge in Clark County, WA.
Individual wildlife rehabilitation centers are places were injured wildlife go to heal with the goal of someday returning to the wild. The problem is that there are very few rehabilitators. Becoming a wildlife rehabilitator is a volunteer role that requires funding, training, time and energy. It’s a resource that’s severely under-funded yet under great demand from wildlife. We own many thanks to these selfless individuals who help to save our nation’s wildlife.
Wildlife rehabilitators are beacons for progress. With time and with many voices, I feel our government will eventually steer away from special interests such as the livestock industry and lean towards the protection of wildlife.
It will take continued research, advocacy and pressures from enlightened consumers and enjoyers of nature, but these are the only hope we have to see our wildlife continue to serve our economy, ecosystems and citizens for many years to come.
[i] Census of Marine Life. (2011, August 24). How many species on Earth? About 8.7 million, new estimate says. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 3, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110823180459.htm
[ii] United States – Flora and Fauna (n.d.) Retrieved from: https://www.nationsencyclopedia.com/Americas/United-States-FLORA-AND-FAUNA.html#b
[iii]Pacelle, W. (2016). The Humane Economy: Animal Protection 2.0 How Innovators and Enlightened Consumers Are Transforming The Lives of Animals.New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
[iv] Guernsey, P. (n.d.) Animals Saved by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Retrieved from: http://www.allaboutwildlife.com/animals-saved-by-the-u-s-endangered-species-act
[v] Urban Wildlife. (n.d).Long Beach Animal Care Services.Retrieved from http://www.longbeach.gov/acs/wildlife/