Georgia has a wide range of flora and fauna, but many of those species are on the path to extinction and will become no more than a fond memory or a display at your local museum. Of course by no means is Georgia the only state with species facing this issue. This issue prompted the creation of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 which protects both the species in question along with their habitat. However, the act has received much criticism since it was first made into law and has been weakened over time. One such case was with the amendments of 1978 which created a committee (the “God Squad”) that was allowed to rule on whether or not an endangered species outweighed the cost of the project that was threatening them. Though the act has been weakened throughout the years it is still a strong piece of legislation.
There are numerous species listed as threatened and endangered throughout the nation. Threatened and endangered species are species that are on the verge of extinction or will be in the near future if we do not do anything now to help prevent it. Currently in Georgia we have 40 animal species listed in this state that occur in this state. We have a few other species listed that do not occur in this state and a few more that are listed in other states, but not in Georgia. We also have 22 plants species listed in the state that include some beautiful flowering plants.
Of the 40 species listed the most endangered on this list are the mussels. There are 15 endangered mussel species in this state that are endemic to the area. These mussels can’t be found anywhere else in the world so once they are gone they are gone for good. Fish have the second highest number of endangered species on the list with eight species. Most of the species on the list are small fishes that you would not think twice about while out on water, but they provide many important biological services that we could lose if they were to disappear. Mammals and reptiles both have six species on the list with the majority of them being aquatic species in both categories. There are three whales and a manatee listed for mammals and 5 sea turtles listed on the reptile’s side. Of the other 5 species left to mention on the list they include two snails, two birds and one amphibian. Of those species three of them live in water and one of them depends on wetlands and rivers for habitat and food. The fifth species is a bird known as the red-cockaded woodpecker that can be found in areas near Columbus and Fort Benning.
All of the species listed fulfill some sort of biological service for us that would be altered or lost if the species were to become extinct. We have control over our actions that have placed some of these species in peril. The construction of dams in rivers and their tributaries is one of the main reasons for the decline of some of the aquatic species, but the amount of pollution we place in our waters is another. Many of the major rivers are now cleaner than they used to be 50 years ago thanks to the environmental movement of the 1970s. However, there is a lot of talk going on right now about building new dams and reservoirs to hold water during these drought times. This would have a detrimental effect on the river ecosystems and the surrounding areas that would be flooded.
The introduction of exotic species, either intentionally or on accident, places many different species in peril as well. In rivers the introduction of the Asian clam has had a negative effect on mussel populations here in the South. Up North the introduction of the Zebra mussel has had an even larger effect on native species. Water hyacinth and hydrilla are two of the most notorious aquatic invasive plant species. They can both take over a water body and make it inhabitable for many different species. On land another plant species out-competing the natives is Chinese privet.
Although there are many different species listed as protected under the Endangered Species act, there are many other species that should be. Every year they come up with a list of all the possible species that should be protected and from that list they only select a few species. However, making it on the list does not mean that the species are doomed and will eventually disappear. There are some success stories that include many different species being unlisted because their population sizes have increased to the point they no longer need protection.
Endangered Species Program. Retrieved from http://www.fws.gov/endangered/