When you think about endangered species, you might think about gorillas or tigers or elephants, but we have endangered species living much closer to home, even right in our own towns and neighborhoods.
Will County is home to 86 endangered and threatened species. Most are plants, including species like lakeside daisy, turbercled orchid, northern panic grass and Mead's milkweed. Animals included on the list include species from every group: amphibians, birds, fish, invertebrates, mammals and reptiles. Among our endangered animals are Blanding's turtles, starhead topminnows, black-crowned night herons, Hine’s emerald dragonflies, northern long-earned bats and Kirtland's snakes.
Protecting these species from extinction is vital to their habitats and protecting the biodiversity of our planet. Extinction is a normal process. In fact, as many as 99% of all species that have ever lived on Earth are extinct. However, extinction does not always occur at a constant or steady rate. Today, we are experiencing extinctions at a vastly higher rate than previously — as many as 1,000 to 10,000 times higher.
The faster pace of extinctions that we are currently experiencing is mainly due to habitat loss. Other contributing factors include introduction of exotic and invasive species, pollution, spread of disease and commercial overexploitation of wildlife.
Saving endangered and threatened species from extinction is complicated, but it has been done and the efforts continue. The work requires action at every level, including locally. Here's a look at the steps you can take to help endangered species.
Learn about endangered species near you
Knowledge is power, and just knowing about the endangered species that live in and around your community and why they are important is a great first step. Once you know about all these at-risk plants and animals in your own backyard, you'll have a better appreciation for their importance and why they need protection. You can then take it a step further by passing on your new knowledge to family and friends.
Words to know
Herbicide: A substance toxic to plants that is used to destroy unwanted vegetation.
Invasive plant: A plant that is not native to the area and is able to establish itself, grow quickly, and spread to the point of disrupting native plant communities or ecosystems.
Permeable: Allowing liquids or gases to pass through.
Pesticide: A substance used for destroying insects or other organisms.
Sustainable products: Products that can be produced and/or consumed in a way that doesn’t result in harm or destruction to the environment or individual living things.
Not sure where to start? The Illinois Endangered Species Protection Board maintains an online list of threatened and endangered species in the state. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency charged with protecting endangered and threatened species, maintains a trove of information on the Endangered Species page of its website.
Avoid herbicides and pesticides
Herbicides and pesticides that control weed growth and limit damage from insects can pollute the soil and our groundwater supply, harming wildlife in the process. These toxins can then enter the food chain when small animals like rodents that were poisoned by these chemicals are eaten by animals higher up the food chain.
When these toxic chemicals pollute our soil and water, it also affects other animals, including amphibians like frogs, toads and salamanders. Amphibians are more vulnerable to the negative effects of pollution because their skin is permeable and toxins can more easily enter their bodies and damage their organs.
Be responsible about waste
This goes beyond recycling, which we all know the benefits of. Being responsible about waste also means not putting toxic or hazardous chemicals out with your weekly trash or dumping them down your drain or flushing them down the toilet. This includes products like paint, paint thinner, antifreeze and furniture polish. When not disposed of properly, products such as these can pollute our land and waters, which in turn can harm plants and animals. To find out how to limit your use of and properly dispose of household hazardous waste, consult the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
When it comes to recycling, make sure you know how your local recycling program works and what items are accepted. Do recyclable products have to be sorted by material? What kind of materials are accepted for recycling? If you aren't following the recycling guidelines of your waste hauler, it's likely your recycled products are ending up in a landfill. Check your waste hauler's website for information about its recycling program.
What we buy directly affects the resources we consume, and making smart choices to limit consumption of natural resources benefits plants and animals worldwide. When shopping, be mindful of products made from sustainable products, like paper made from post-consumer recycled content, and opt for reusable goods — like water bottles and cloth napkins — rather then single-use items.
Thinking sustainably goes beyond the above steps. If you want to be a conscious consumer, avoid buying wood products made from wood from rain forests and be mindful of products containing palm oil because of the deforestation that is occurring to develop palm plantations. In addition, make sure to recycle your cell phone and other electronic devices when you replace them because a mineral used in the production of these devices is mined from an area where critically endangered gorillas live.
Make your yard wildlife friendly
Making your own yard hospitable to local wildlife helps animals thrive in their ecosystem. Having a wildlife-friendly yard can include adding native plants to your landscaping — the more the better. Planting native plants will attract native insects, which both helps pollinate plants and attracts other wildlife that can use your yard to find food and take shelter. Native plants are important because they often take the place of invasive plants. They also are hardy and require less care.
Being wildlife friendly can also include taking simple steps like making sure to use garbage cans with locking lids and not storing pet food or bird seed outdoors. If you have birdbaths or put out bird feeders, make sure to clean and disinfect them regularly to prevent transmission of diseases among birds.
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