Conserving California’s endangered species

Conserving California’s endangered species

Fifty years ago, under President Richard Nixon, the United States officially enshrined into law the Endangered Species Act (ESA), arguably the most powerful piece of legal protection for at-risk species on earth. California actually led with our own state-level legislation three years earlier. Together, these two laws now ensure that many of our most sensitive species have a voice at the environmental table.

Protecting sensitive species from extinction is the job of our regulatory partners in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, among many others. Doing the science that underpins their actions is our job, and we take it seriously in the Shaffer Lab. After half a century of protection, this year is a great time to consider some of our work with state and federal partners to provide genetic analyses, field ecological studies, and demographic models that have led to species listings and recovery actions across the state.

… one species at a time

Consider a few examples. As we enter the final year of our California Conservation Genomics Project (CCGP), we are seeing the way that cutting edge university-led research can affect the protection of literally hundreds of species of plants and animals, and we discuss some of this work later in this report. But our work goes far beyond that ambitious, state-funded project. Work in my own research lab centers on reptiles and amphibians, and has provided the science enabling state and federal listing protections for the California tiger salamander, a spectacular amphibian that is wholly restricted to our state, and state listing for the equally amazing foothill yellow-legged frog, one of the few species of frogs that breed only in flowing streams. An IoES Environmental Sciences “Senior Practicum” course provided some of the critical data (and student-led publications) that provided a key component of the recent USFWS decision to list the Western Pond Turtle under the ESA. And based in part on the work of a recent PhD student from our group, it looks like the Western Spadefoot, a toad-like denizen of our ever-shrinking vernal pool ecosystems, is also headed for listing and protection.

Other members of our team are working on endangered butterfly species that are restricted to the highest Sierras, coastal Southern California, and the Bay Delta, endangered kangaroo rats, near-extinct tidewater gobies, endangered vernal pool fairy shrimp and grasses, and many others. It’s a team effort. But with the support of our partners, and the outstanding work of our PIs, postdocs and students, we’re really making a real difference. One species at a time.