An Endangered Ecosystem

from Wildlife Promise

Threatened Chiricahua leopard frog

Threatened Chiricahua leopard frog (Rana chiricahuensis), Sycamore Canyon, Arizona. Photo: Jim Rorabaugh/USFWS

Picture yourself taking a beautiful spring hike. As you walk, you notice a clearing and decide to sit down under a small opening of trees, looking out over wildflowers, grasses, and rich pools of standing water. You take in a deep breath and appreciate the solitude and silence. You glance down and notice a small frog watching you before darting away. Your gaze turns toward the water’s edge where you notice several little fishes swimming in-between the reeds. You look up and see a wading bird fishing in the water with dragonflies fluttering all around.  You reflect on how full of life this land really is and realize now, you are not really alone, but where are you?

This place you are in is a wetland, some of the most biologically diverse and ecologically productive systems in the world. Wetlands encompass many different natural environments; from upland springs and raging rivers, to lower catchment marshes, floodplains, lakes, and estuaries. In their natural state wetlands:

  • Provide wildlife habitat and diversity,
  • Prevent from floods,
  • Shelter coasts from hurricanes and storms,
  • Protect the quality of water,
  • Serve as water storage.

Unfortunately, over 20 million acres of U.S. wetlands are without protection, or are currently in danger of losing their protections.  What does that mean for the species that depend of wetlands for their survival? They are disappearing.

Here are few species that you may have seen on your walk who are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

1. Chiricahua Leopard frog (Rana chiricahuensis) is a medium sized, stout bodied frog with green-brown skin, many spots on its back, and pale yellow to white skin below. It can be distinguished by its strange snoring sound when it wants attention. Once found in more than 400 aquatic ecosystems in the Southwest, the frog is now found at fewer than 80. Since these frogs need permanent water for reproduction the conversion of wetlands to agriculture has been very harmful to their population.

2. Wood stork (Mycteria americana) is one of the largest wading birds and can measure over 3 ft. tall and have a wingspan of about 5 ft. This stork can be found from South America to the Southern US. They have adapted an interesting way to fish by feel; while wading in shallow water they submerge their bill, when a fish comes along it quickly snaps shut. The wood stork was listed as an endangered species in 1984 and because of wetland habitat loss their numbers do not seem to be recuperating.

3. Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) in their beginning life stages stop in estuaries to feed, grow and adjust to salt water. Chinook populations in Puget Sound, WA have declined 18-90% since the 1960’s and one major cause is the destruction of wetlands and estuaries. Puget Sound has lost more than 70% of its tidal wetlands to filling, dredging and diking- all crucial areas for developing young Chinook salmon.

4. Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly (Somatochlora hineana) measures about 2.5 inches and has a wingspan of about 3.3 inches; it has bright emerald-green eyes and a metallic green body, with yellow stripes on its sides. Hine’s emerald dragonfly are important link in the food chain by being a key food source for larger aquatic animals such as fish and catching smaller flying insects like mosquitoes, biting flies, and gnats. The Hine’s emerald dragonfly’s greatest threat is the loss of wetland habitat they depend on for survival.

Bonus Species: River Otter (Lontra Canadensis) though not endangered depend on wetland for shelter, food, and places for enrichment and play.

Without the protections afforded by the Clean Water Act, crucial wetland habitats for otters and other wetland species can be destroyed. Help protect these species by sending a message to the Obama administration urging them to follow through and restore these Clean Water Act protections.