Endangered Species Act

Celebrating Rachel Carson’s Life and Legacy


By Kathy Sykes 

“…spring now comes unheralded by the return of the birds, and the early mornings are strangely silent where once they were filled with the beauty of bird song.”

—Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

Rachel Carson. Image courtesy of the Rachel Carson Council.

Rachel Carson. Image courtesy of the Rachel Carson Council.

Flapping wings of osprey and eagles wish Rachel Carson a happy 106th birthday. They have much to celebrate this May 27th.  Just 50 years ago, the bald eagle seemed headed for extinction. DDT, an organochlorine insecticide, broke the hearts of mother ospreys who unintentionally crushed the thinned eggshells of their unhatched chicks.  Eagles were also disappearing. “By 1963, only 417 pairs were still raising young in the lower 48 states.” [i]

Fortunately, Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring was released and described how DDT was poisoning birds and wildlife and endangering human health. Silent Spring planted the seeds of the environmental movement and captured the attention of President John F. Kennedy.

A decade later, two seminal events changed the course of history, saving birds and other wildlife from the brink of extinction. First, EPA banned DDT. Next, the Endangered Species Act was passed.  By 2006, the nation was home to nearly 10,000 successful breeding pairs of bald eagles. [ii]

Ospreys, a “close cousin” of eagles and other birds of prey, live close to waterways such as estuaries, reservoirs, rivers, salt marshes and ponds because their diet consists primarily of fish. A pair, Steve and Rachel, is nesting on Hog Island in Maine. You can become an indoor birder and watch for the chicks to hatch on a live web cam.

Appropriately named after Rachel Carson, Rachel will sit on three healthy eggs incubating them until they hatch.  I have become addicted and peek in daily. So far, I have seen brown-and-white-speckled eggs and both parents-in-waiting. I can see the wind fluff Rachel’s feathers and feel her comfort on rainy days as raindrops are repelled, sliding off or balling up on her back of oily feathers. Longing to hear her call, I found recordings on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology web site. (I love the internet!)

Mother osprey and chick. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service image

Mother osprey and chick. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service image

The National Audubon Society’s 10 tips show what we can all do to help the billions of birds migrating north. I plan to join the Hummingbirds at Home project and become a citizen scientist, pledge to curb my cats, drink coffee made from shade-grown beans, and forgo pesticides.

If Emily Dickinson were alive today, she surely would be a citizen scientist. I’d like to think she would have entered a poem and picture of feathers into the 7th Annual Rachel Carson contest.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.  —Emily Dickinson

Your intergenerational team has until June 10, 2013 to jointly submit an original song, poem, essay, photo, or dance. Happy bird-day, Rachel. We thank you for your dedicated work, your creativity, and leaving with us a “sense of wonder.”

About the Author: Kathy Sykes has been working for the EPA since 1998 where she focuses on older adults and the built environment and healthy communities.  In 2012, she joined the Office of Research and Development and serves as Senior Advisor for Aging and Sustainability.


[i] Science 22 June 2007: Vol. 316 no. 5832 pp. 1689-1690 DOI: 10.1126/science.316.5832.1689 Can the Bald Eagle Still Soar After It Is Delisted? Erik Stokstad

[ii] http://www.fws.gov/midwest/eagle/population/chtofprs.html  Retrieved on May 20, 2013

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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First Helping of Acronym Soup with a Side of Data

By Jeffery Robichaud

I was standing up in front of a class of students comprised mostly of seniors at Park University last Monday for their last class on U.S. Environmental Regulations.  One of the questions I asked of them was which environmental law do they believe is the most important and why?  Driving home after class I realized I’m not sure I could answer that question easily.

The reality is that it is tough to compare environmental laws, and even tougher to choose amongst those if forced to choose a single one.  So I won’t, however the drive home gave me the idea that I might highlight environmental laws and regulations in the context of data and information, particularly of the geospatial kind.   Most environmental regulations are better known by their acronyms; RCRA, SDWA, FIFRA, EPCRA, NEPA, etc.,  so today I bring you the first spoonful of environmental acronym soup.

My choice for the first environmental law was easy, since I briefly mentioned it in a January post.  The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was established in 1973 to conserve endangered and threatened species and the ecosystems on which they depend.  It is administered primarily by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).  You can find out more about the ESA by clicking here.  The Environmental Protection Act interacts with the USFWS regarding the ESA routinely, most notably around what is known as consultations (Section 7 of the Act for those that want to look it up).

In conducting our work it is important to ensure that our actions are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of listed species or adversely modify critical habitat.  Regarding the latter, the USFWS has helped all of us out with a Critical Habitat Portal, which allows individuals to search for habitat based on a particular species.  You can download shapefiles and metadata for use in your own mapping projects or, use their convenient Critical Habitat Mapper to get some quick results (like the locations of Critical Habitat for the Topeka Shiner, a threatened and endangered (T&E) species here in Region 7).

Data on the locations of T&E species is a bit trickier.  They can obviously be inferred from the Critical Habitat Mapper and many states maintain information usually at the county-level regarding known and historic ranges of T&E species.  However, an organization called Nature Serve can provide more specific information regarding locations depending on the intended uses of the data and the project.    They serve as the repository for detailed and reliable locality data (“element occurrences”) from State Conservation departments documenting the precise locations of rare and endangered species and threatened ecological communities.  From time to time we need this information at a finer scale to ensure that a specific activity is mindful of the presence of these species.

So there you have it… the ESA with a side of T&E data.  I haven’t decided what acronym I want to tackle next, but I’m taking requests.  Be sure to tip your GIS specialist (with data of course).

Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division. Jeff’s favorite T&E species is the Gray Wolf but he also thinks the Plains Spotted Skunk is pretty darn cute.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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