Fight for Survival
Saving a Rich Heritage from Extinction
In places, the United States still abounds with fish and wildlife. All over the country, sportsmen take to the wilds each summer and fall to fish for trout and bass or hunt deer, grouse, ducks and other game. Backpackers, photographers and bird watchers explore the nation's forests, deserts and shorelines in growing numbers, on the lookout for a fleeting glimpse of North America's rich and varied wildlife heritage.
On visits to their ranch near Santa Barbara, Calif., President and Mrs. Reagan “enjoy seeing the hawks, the black-tailed deer, and raccoons and possums,” Reagan told National Wildlife editor John Strohm in a recent interview. Black bear and mountain lions have also been spotted in the Southern California mountains where Reagan's ranch is located. White-tailed deer have reoccupied forests that have reclaimed abandoned farms in the South and East, while the adaptable coyote, the “song dog” of the Western plains, has extended its range from the Los Angeles suburbs to the sheep-farming country of New England. For the time being at least, a 1972 ban on the pesticide DDT may have saved the bald eagle, peregrine falcon and brown pelican. Lake trout are back in the Great Lakes, and Atlantic salmon spawn in New England rivers where they disappeared more than a century ago. The buffalo are gone from the Great Plains, but beaver, elk, wild turkey and pronghorn antelope have been brought back from the brink of extinction.
But other American wildlife is in deep trouble. The California condor may be about to vanish, and the whooping crane remains in peril. Stream-blocking dams and over-fishing have depleted Pacific salmon runs, and state and federal officials in 1984 imposed a moratorium on harvesting the declining Atlantic striped bass. Despite protection under the Endangered Species Act, it may be too late to preserve the red wolf, black-footed ferret, Florida panther, Wyoming toad, dusky seaside sparrow and a host of other birds, mammals, insects and plants in the wild. The grizzly bear, gray wolf and bighorn sheep have retreated to a few last strongholds in the lower 48 states or Alaska and Canada. “What I'm effectively doing,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Charles J. Ault lamented, “is documenting the demise of wildlife resources.”