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Endangered Species: Going, Going, Gone?
Trumpeter swans at Au Sable River. Foote Dam trumpeter swans with brood of five cygnets, June 2002. The parents who were released by Consumers Energy in 1998 are identified by the green neck bands. The cygnets will attain the all white adult plumage and black bill the following spring.
When a plant or animal species is extinct, there are no more of its kind to be found anywhere on the earth. An endangered species is one that is in immediate danger of becoming extinct. Extinction is not a new concept. Wildlife populations (dinosaurs, for example) were becoming extinct on the earth long before humans were around. However, humans have tremendously increased the rate at which wildlife is becoming endangered and extinct. Scientists estimate that in the eons before recorded history, one or two species became extinct about every thousand years. Today, estimates range from one species extinction per year to dozens of extinctions per day—and the rate continues to increase.
When a species is recognized as being endangered, special efforts are taken to try to save it from extinction. The trumpeter swan, piping plover, and Kirtland's warbler are good examples of Michigan wildlife that are benefiting from these special efforts. However, there are too many species on the endangered species list for all of them to get adequate attention.
It is important to try to save endangered species from extinction. But it is even more important to prevent healthy species from ever becoming endangered. For this reason, wildlife conservation efforts are shifting away from the management of individual species toward management of ecosystems—entire communities of plants and animals that are interrelated with each other and the habitat. This is known as the conservation of biodiversity.
Endangered species are symptoms of larger ecosystem problems. Protecting and restoring endangered species is like treating the symptoms of an illness. Conserving biodiversity is like finding the cure.
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