National Geographic : 1995 Mar
AVE THE WHALES! Save the Bald Eagle! Save the Grizzly! Such were the rallying cries that helped bring about the ESA, so I began by looking at how those particular animals have fared since the act's passage. From a low of a few thousand, California gray whales have increased to about 24,000, sufficiently recov ered to have departed the endangered species list last June. In place of whaling, a new industry has grown up around simply enjoy ing the coast-hugging giants. Some 300,000 people spend five million dollars a year whale-watching in California alone. While credit must also go to Mexico and the Inter national Whaling Commission, this is just the kind of success story the ESA was designed to produce. The whales win and people win, and both will for generations to come. As for bald eagles, breeding pairs in the lower 48 states have increased from about 400 in the early 1960s to more than 4,000 today. Last June the status of our national symbol was declared sufficiently improved in most of that area to be changed from endan gered to threatened, a less critical listing that means the subject faces the likelihood of becoming endangered. Because the eagle's plight spurred a ban on the metabolism warping pesticide DDT, other imperiled spe cies such as peregrine falcons and brown pelicans have bounced back as well. Yards that had fallen eerily silent once again harbor bluebirds and robins, and we have started paying more attention to the chemicals in our environment. Maybe what happened is that the eagle saved us. But with the grizzly, reduced to fewer than a thousand animals in the lower 48 states, the rescue work quickly gets more complicated. Outlawing commercial hunting or some dan gerous contaminant won't do the trick. Nei ther will setting aside a nice little reserve somewhere. These animals need enormous tracts of untamed landscape to survive. Efforts to restore and stabilize their numbers have increased regulations on grazing, log ging, mining, oil and gas operations, road use, and even camping on millions of public acres such as national forests, while environ mentalists brandish the bear's threatened sta tus to keep further development away from shrinking wildlands. Montana rancher Dick Christy thinks his constitutional rights got mauled somewhere along the way. In June 1982, after leasing land from the Blackfeet tribe, he put 800 ewes and lambs out to graze on Chief Moun tain, just east of Glacier National Park. Dick encountered five grizzlies over the next month. Two, he learned, had been in trouble with livestock elsewhere and had been relo cated on the mountain. All of them were eating his lamb chops. Before the ESA the result would have been five dead bears. Times change. Eighty-four dead sheep after he started, Dick pulled out and sold off the rest of his flock. He figured his losses at more than $10,000. On top of that he was hit with a $2,500 fine, because he'd killed a grizzly. "We'd just bedded down the sheep and were having a cup of cof fee when two bears came trotting toward the herd," he told me. "I shot the lead one. I did it to protect my animals. But I could argue that I also fired in defense of my life, my wife's, and the herder's." SPEEDBOATS SINK A SPECIES Hit-and-run victims on Florida's busy water ways, injured mana tees maintain vital buoyancy only with the aid of inflatable wet suits at Orlando's Sea World. At a ma rine pathology lab in St. Petersburg the lacerations on a dead manatee tell Scott Wright, center, that the animal was diving to escape when the propeller struck. With only about 2,000 of these docile herbi vores surviving along Florida's coasts, last year's 50 or so deaths by collision are espe cially alarming.