Gray Wolves, Grizzly Bears and Bald Eagles

Friday, October 5, 2007

2007 has been a big year for removal of protected animals from the endangered species list. Three species native to North America that were among the first to be listed after the passage of the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966 have been recovered and no longer need protection. In February, Canis lupus was delisted in certain areas of its range; in March, Ursus arctos horribilis was delisted; in July Haliaeetus leucocephalus was delisted, making headlines.

Latin names notwithstanding, these animals are familiar to most Americans for their contributions to our collective folklore, native mythology, tall-tales and national identity: they are the gray wolf, Yellowstone grizzly bear and the American bald eagle.

This should be good news to conservationists. The legislation and science were successful, and 40 years later, three majestic animals figuring prominently in our natural history are back from the brink of extinction. But Saint Joseph's University professor of biology Scott McRobert, Ph.D., noted expert in the ecological, genetic and evolutionary aspects of animal behavior has misgivings.

"I don't necessarily see them coming off the list as a positive thing, or as a testament to the success of these animals across their range," he said.

Many conservationists are concerned that removing animals from the list will expose them to new dangers. For instance, DDT no longer threatens bald eagles since it has been banned from use, but what will happen if eagle habitats, which were once protected, are negatively impacted by over-development?  Is it possible to get the raptors back on the list?

Yes, but McRobert is not optimistic that the process would be easy -- or expedient.

"Putting a species on the endangered list takes lots of time and hard work. It requires a great deal of study and petitioning. This is good in the sense that the list is meaningful; otherwise, people would simply place everything on the list, and it would have no real value," he noted. "On the negative side, species in dire need may have to wait years to get protection. Many animals have gone extinct waiting to receive the protection offered by being listed."

"Once a species is on the list, I'm basically against removing it -- and thereby removing its protection," he added.

Dr. McRobert can be reached for comment at 610-660-1833 or, or contact the Office of University Communications at 610-660-1222.

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