National Geographic : 2009 Jan
• the act itself by decreasing funding and politi- cizing the scienti c evaluations that determine the status of species at risk. As this article goes to press, only 64 species have been listed in the almost eight years George W. Bush has been in the White House. During his father s four years, the total was 235. ere s nothing easy about adding a creature to the list. Sometimes a species is proposed by the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service. Sometimes it s pro- posed by the public or a conservation group. A candidate for listing must undergo a scien- ti c review and a public comment period. One of the most recent additions---the polar bear, which was given threatened status last May--- suggests some of the inherent di culties. Polar bear habitat is dwindling due to climate change, but it s also being compromised by the rush to exploit the Arctic for minerals and petroleum. Dirk Kempthorne, the Secretary of the Interi- or, listed the polar bear only a er being forced to by a federal court, and only a er calling the Endangered Species Act "perhaps the least ex- ible law Congress has ever enacted." In its wan- ing months the Bush Administration proposed regulatory changes that would gut the act by allowing federal agencies, not scientists, to decide whether to protect a species. At present 1,050 species in the United States and its neighboring waters are listed as en- dangered---at risk of extinction. Another 309 are listed as threatened, or likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. ere are recovery plans---strategies for restoring dwin- dling populations---for most of them, including e Alabama beach mouse ekes out a living on a 14-mile stretch of the state s Fort Morgan Peninsula, where its dune habitat is fragmented by construction and lit up at night. Habitat saved under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) prevented these nocturnal mice from going the way of the dodo. Verlyn Klinkenborg chronicles the natural world for many publications. Joel Sartore has photographed 25 Geographic stories, six on endangered species.