Endangered Isn't Forever

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Published on: Dec. 2, 2002

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

We hear so much about extinction and endangered species today that sometimes the problem seems hopeless. If we take a close look at what is being done to protect some species, however, we see that, unlike extinction, endangered doesn't have to be forever.

Perhaps the most famous example of species recovery is the bald eagle. The bald eagle became endangered across most of this country because of habitat loss, poisoning and pesticides, especially DDT which caused birds to lay eggs with shells so thin that they often broke before the young could hatch.

DDT has been banned in the United States, and it is illegal to harm bald eagles. With the help of reintroduction programs, the bald eagle has made a comeback across the country, and nowhere has its recovery been more remarkable than in Missouri. Not only do thousands of eagles spend the winter in Missouri, but an increasing number nest along Missouri lakes and rivers. In 1984, no eagles were known to nest in Missouri, but in 2001 as many as 116 eagles were raised from 59 different nests in the state.

In 1995, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service changed the federal status of the bald eagle from endangered to threatened. In 2000, the agency was on the verge of removing it from the threatened list.

Although bald eagles remain on Missouri's endangered list, all indications are that populations will continue to increase in coming years. Certainly the recovery of the bald eagle so far can be considered an endangered species success story. The bald eagle is a symbol not only for our country, but for the potential of endangered species recovery.

Some less visible species also are making comebacks. At one time, there may have been as many as 2 million gray bats in Missouri, but by the 1970s their population shrank to about half a million. Gray bats, which were listed as federally endangered in 1976, roost in caves year round. In winter, they gather in large groups to hibernate. Most gray bats in Missouri hibernate in the same three caves every winter, but this dependence on these specific sites has made gray bats vulnerable to disturbance by humans.

When hibernating, bats depend on stored energy to get through the winter. If they are disturbed during hibernation, they may use up valuable energy and starve before spring. Disturbance of maternity caves in the summer can cause

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