It's been 50 years since the United States attempted a conservation revolution with the passing of the Endangered Species Act in 1973. Now, fifty years later, the Fish and Wildlife Service finds itself at a crossroads: some recovery efforts are succeeding, but too many are either failing or stuck in neutral, even after decades of work.
Take, for example, the story of two cranes, the whooping crane of southeastern Texas and the red-crowned crane of northern Japan. Both were pushed to the brink of extinction by the early 1900s, with surviving populations numbering as few as 20 to 40 individuals and are now the subjects of concerted recovery efforts led by advanced national governments. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has focused mainly on habitat protection, while at Japan's Ministry of the Environment, conservation authorities have leaned most heavily on direct population survival via a long-standing winter feeding program. These two case studies provide a template for comparing different approaches towards endangered species: habitat management vs. population management. Thus far the Japanese approach has proved more successful, but the story isn't over yet. What can these lessons teach us about managing other endangered species? Can species rehabilitation be standardized, or must each effort be designed and implemented on a case-by-case basis?
A Tale of Two Cranes will serve as a launching pad for better understanding the progress and pitfalls inherent in endangered species management, through 50 years of lessons learned since the landmark Endangered Species Act was enacted by the United States Congress in December 1973. Also considering its success stories like the Attwater's prairie chicken, the ESA has had an enormous impact on conservation theory and practice throughout the world, from Tasmanian devils in Australia to the vaquita porpoises of Mexico. But, worsening government budget constraints, public inattention, and a continuous string of setbacks experienced within numerous rehabilitation initiatives will all eventually conspire to challenge the conventional thinking on endangered species management like never before.
Author Nathanial Gronewold explains how we got here, where things stand today, and what lessons conservationists must take to heart as the world continues to struggle to put a halt to an ongoing global extinction crisis.
Nathanial Gronewold is a veteran journalist with experience running assignments in Pakistan, Colombia, Kenya, Haiti, and beyond. He is the winner of the 2019 National Press Club Award for newsletter writing and the author of Anthill Economics.
Gronewold formerly reported on the United Nations and global affairs for Nikkei, The Economist, and The Canadian Press. He currently writes on environmental and energy news, establishing bureaus for E&E News in New York, Houston, and Japan. To date, he has written over 2,800 reports, including articles appearing in The New York Times, Scientific American, and Science Magazine. He is a two-time recipient of the Gold Prize for coverage of climate change by the United Nations Correspondents Association and was awarded the 2012 Honorable Mention by the National Press Club. He currently resides in northern Japan with his wife.