21 June 2021

Spotlighting At-Risk Species

Written by: Ian Souza-Cole

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has, since its inception, focused on the conservation and protection of our nation’s biodiversity. One of the primary mechanisms to accomplish this goal is to designate species experiencing declines as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Such listing decisions convey legal protections and conservation resources aimed at reversing negative population trends. In many cases, however, it would be beneficial to protect and stabilize populations of species of concern before they reach a threshold of imperilment that demands a listing decision. Plants and animals that exist in this middle ground between stable and threatened are deemed “at-risk species” and are increasingly being prioritized for conservation action by the USFWS and partner agencies.

This summer, I am working remotely from my home in Illinois with the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration (NRDAR) program based at the USFWS headquarters in Virginia. Operating across the country, the NRDAR program responds to accidents like oil spills or chemical releases that destroy habitats and harm plants and animals. Specialists in the field determine the extent and type of damage that has occurred and then craft restoration plans with stakeholders to return or ameliorate what was lost. These restoration plans often focus on the benefits for threatened and endangered species (as well as migratory birds and marine mammals) as this is the typical purview for USFWS. But it is also likely that these restored habitats are benefiting at-risk species and we would like to know which ones. As a Directorate Fellow’s Program intern, I am developing a mapping tool to help project managers assess the potential benefits of their restorations for at-risk species.

Thus far, I have focused my efforts on the at-risk species that inhabit the North Atlantic-Appalachian region, stretching from Virginia to Maine. The species considered include familiar faces like eastern whip-poor-wills (which I am studying for my Master’s thesis) and monarch butterflies to less well-known groups like freshwater mussels (20 at-risk species in the region) and northeastern stoneflies (35 species). I am currently at work compiling occurrence records to visualize where these species are found which I can then cross reference with the many successful restorations that NRDAR has completed. There is lots of work ahead and a lot more mapping to do!

Agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Program: US Fish & Wildlife Service - DFP

Location: National Capital Region

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