Antietam Currents


February 2013


The Federal Endangered Species Act was signed into law in 1973 by President Nixon. Over the years it has been modified to be more flexible and proactive and at the same time less onerous for land owners.  Organisms ranked as US 5 have large, secure populations. US 4 species are apparently secure, though they may be uncommon or live in restricted habitats. If a species has no more than 100 populations (breeding groups) in the entire USA, it is put onto the Federal list and ranked as US 3, Rare, also called Vulnerable.  Those with 6 to 20 populations are US 2, Threatened or Imperiled, and those in 5 or fewer populations are US 1, Endangered or Critically Imperiled.  About 400 animals and 600 plants are on the Federal list. Some 30 have recovered and been removed, about 15 have gone extinct.

Pennsylvania, like each state and territory, also has its own Natural Heritage Program to keep track of its uncommon plants and creatures.  Pennsylvania’s program is partly funded by small income tax form donations and sales of special car licenses and clothing patches. Species in greatest danger of going extinct have official ranks of S1 - 3, which gives them some (but not automatic) protection. For example, a municipality in western PA moved the location of a new bridge by 50 feet so that only part of a population of Carolina tassel-rue was destroyed. You can see the lists of Biota of Special Concern in Pennsylvania at—Plants, Reptiles and Amphibians, Fish, Mussels and Snails, Birds, Mammals, Insects and Spiders, Lichen, Geology, and Plant Communities. Many of the species, marked with butterfly icons, have one-page information sheets. The web site also gives detailed information for each county.

Several of the mammals on Pennsylvania’s list, like martens and fishers, are extinct in the state but the possibility exists that they may return or be re-discovered.  Bison, wolves, and mountain lions do not appear (despite unverified cougar sightings!) since they’re unlikely to return unless re-introduced, as river otters and elk were. Biologists know over 100 Pennsylvania plants that are X or extirpated (extinct) or H (historical, probably gone); most of these disappeared over 100 years ago. On the other hand, every year biologists decide that a number of plants have recovered well enough that they can be upgraded or even removed from the list. Certain plants that have problems are on an informal “watch” list to remind biologists to keep an eye on them. Some are noted as “potential” species of special concern if, for example, they are uncommon and heavily browsed by deer. Other plants are not yet ranked for lack of complete information. Eventually, all the uncommon plants in Pennsylvania will be surveyed well enough to be officially ranked as R, T, E, or X, or removed from the watch and potential concern lists, but this takes time and only a few people are doing it. 

People often think that the rarest species in the world, those ranked G1- G3 on the IUCN Red List, must all live far away. Giant Pandas and Tigers are both G2 on the Red List.  Yet four Pennsylvania reptiles and amphibians, 2 birds, 8 fish, 2 bats, about 40 insects, and about 20 snails and clam-like mussels are on the international Red List. One Red-Listed turtle, 2 bats, a fish, 3 insect-like arthopods, and 2 mussels live right here in Franklin County.  Three dozen Pennsylvania plants are also on the Red List. Five grow in Franklin County, including one in a Nature Conservancy wetland near the Chambersburg Mall.

Note that half the vertebrate animals on Pennsylvania’s Natural Heritage lists bear their young or find their food in wetlands, habitats that today make up only 5% of the state. Many of the animals and half of the 36 Red List plants found in Pennsylvania also live in wetlands.  Much of our state’s diversity is preserved in these small and vital areas.

AWA has a major riparian planting project coming up on April 13, 2013.  Watch for details on the website and Record Herald closer to the date.

Every month, AWA publishes an informative column in the local newspaper, The Record Herald. The “current” Antietam Currents is posted here. We hope to eventually include the entire archives.

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