A talk at the Northeast Harbor Garden Club on endangered species

By: Amos S. Eno
Posted on:08/24/2020

On 6 August I gave a talk at the Northeast Harbor Garden Club on endangered species, and a plug for the Downeast Salmon Federation, Maine’s premier conservation organization working to restore Atlantic salmon to Maine rivers

In this time of Black Lives Matter and where unruly, criminal protests run riot in our Metropolitan areas, I documented the antecedent events of 1968/69, and wrote my Princeton thesis on the Evolution of Radical Black Leadership: Malcom X to Black Panthers. Giving a nod to my hostess, Kathy Vignos was the only person aside from my father, who read my thesis.

Kathy asked me to talk about endangered species, so I will give you two perspectives: one from nearby in Downeast Maine, and secondly a broader, national, global overview.

Few people today know how you recover endangered species….so let me first address the challenges of recovering endangered species, and put this jambalaya of experiences into perspective with Atlantic salmon here in Maine.

  1. The primary factor needed to resuscitate an endangered species is to determine the source of mortality. With mammals, birds, and fish this is usually the first step. The classic example is California condors. In the mid 1980s condors were down to 18 birds in the wild and nobody could pinpoint the cause of mortality for America’s most ancient and largest bird. We captured and radio tagged several pairs-which was very controversial at the time with strenuous opposition from Sierra club, Friends of the Earth, the leading field scientist, Karl Koford. Within 12 months we were able to pinpoint the source of mortality: lead poisoning from deer carcasses. There are now over 1,000 condors in 5 states.


  1. In the early 1990s while I was executive Director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation NFWF), I was introduced to Orri Vigfusson, a brilliant, entrepreneurial Icelandic businessman who took on the recovery of Atlantic salmon as his life’s work through his non profit the North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF). Atlantic salmon have two summer ocean feeding grounds: off the southwest coast of Greenland-discovered in 1950s by USS Nautilus returning from the North pole, and off the Faroe islands in the eastern Atlantic. Both areas are heavily fished for salmon. Orri had the brilliant idea of negotiating a buy-out of both these fisheries to improve salmon returns to rivers in both North America and Europe. In years 1993-1999 ,NFWF paid for these annual buy-outs by NASF with matching funds provided by Perry Bass, Joe Cullman and others. The highest returns of salmon, if I recall correctly, on the Penobscot were in 1996 three years after the first buy-out. In 1999 I was removed from NFWF by the Clinton administration , and neither of my successors at NFWF nor any federal agency has stepped forward to continue funding the buy-outs. Recently the Grassy Creek Foundation (NYC) has stepped into this void following Orri’s death three years ago to cancer.


  1. A secondary factor in achieving a species recovery is restoring and safeguarding the target species’ habitat. Maine has 5 small Downeast salmon rivers. In the 1990s while running NFWF I gave grants to protect almost 100% of the habitat on the Ducktrap watershed just north of Camden. Orri also started focusing on Maine rivers in the late 1990s, first the Saco, and then the East Machias. He brought new hatchery rearing technology developed by his dear friend Peter Gray, who spear headed the recovery of salmon on the Tyne river in Scotland, and this is what Downeast Salmon Federation (DSF) has applied to restore salmon runs on the East Machias and hopefully soon to the Narraguagus watershed. DSF is applying this new technology to restoring salmon to Maines’ rivers while also doing yeoman’s work to restore the habitat of all these rivers, of which I will speak to later.


  1.  The role of entrepreneurial nonprofits: Let me put you in Rocky and Bullwinkle’s “Wayback Machine” to visit a bit of ancient conservation history that is still applicable to today’s topic. In the mid 1970s when I worked for the Office of the Secretary of Interior, I watched the relative non-performance of endangered species captive breeding at USFWS’ Patuxent National Research Center. I intervened and arranged for whooping cranes to be sent to George Archibald at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, WI. George successfully bred whoopers with unprecedented success which led to the restocking of whoopers into Texas, Idaho/New Mexico, Louisiana, and Florida boosting recovery significantly-a great conservation success story. Later we similarly transferred peregrine falcons to Tom Cade at Cornell and later to his Peregrine Fund which again provided superior breeding and re-introduction capacities leading to peregrine recovery-another conservation success. Similarly, we gave a grant to Tom Cade’s Cornell student Tina Milburn to initiate and develop proof of concept for “hacking “of bald eagles back into the wild, which expedited eagle recovery techniques across the Midwest and New England states. Later while I was at National Audubon and USFWS’ Office of Endangered Species, we arranged for California condors to be transferred from Patuxent NRC to Los Angeles and San Diego zoos for enhanced breeding capacity. Again the breeding was successful and led to condor recovery, as aforementioned, from 18 birds to over 1,000 today. Each of these examples features an entrepreneurial nonprofit which surpassed USFWS’ capacity for breeding, reintroduction and enhanced recovery techniques. Jack Woody’s work with local partners in Mexico protecting sea turtle nesting sites, and the creation of IGBC, The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, which brought states in as equal partners to federal agencies, propelled grizzly recovery in the Yellowstone ecosystem. Today Downeast Salmon Federation is following this well –trod, but largely forgotten, trail combining entrepreneurial success, application of innovative technology, habitat restoration, and community-based partnering as applied to endangered species recovery. They are exceeding historical FWS returns over the past 30 years for salmon 10-20 times by applying the Peter Gray techniques to rearing and stocking salmon in Maine rivers .


  1. During my NFWF tenure, I not only funded Orri’s NASF buy-outs of salmon fisheries, I also invested in watershed restoration of Maine’s Downeast rivers through Project SHARE to improve fish passage and habitat restoration, which is how Dwayne Shaw DSF CEO entered what has now become the DSF universe. I am currently on the board of Maine’s Outdoor Heritage Fund where I have sponsored funding for half a dozen DSF projects for removing dams, liming rivers, and restoring wetlands, all of which have been successfully executed, an outstanding track record for a small, underfunded nonprofit.


  1.  Conservationists and fish advocates have been trying to restore Atlantic salmon for almost 50 years, the length and breadth of my professional career which dates back to 1972. The track record , despite 10s of millions of $ spent by federal and state agencies, is less than stellar, in fact, it is dismal! Orri Vigfusson pioneered a two-fold successful strategy involving the high seas buy outs of salmon fisheries on their ocean feeding grounds and the application of a new hatchery/rearing technology to plant salmon that can survive in natal rivers.  The latter is happening in Downeast Maine fulfilling Orri’s vision.


  1. A National Perspective: The Endangered Species Act dates to Congressional passage in 1973. During the first two decades recovery of species was largely the responsibility of USFWS and state fish and wildlife agencies, and significant progress was made by a number of partnering non profits. In the late 1980s, the world changed with the passage of Equal Access to Justice Act which allowed nonprofits to sue the federal government and receive generous legal fees for their efforts. This led to decades of litigation which is still going on full throttle with Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and Defenders of Wildlife suing to list thousands of endangered species. The Wall St Journal and others have repeatedly editorialized on this SUE and Settle strategy that has resulted in a tidal wave of litigation, and overall conservation stagnation. The end result is recovery of species has largely ground to a halt as USFWS’ focus morphed from a focus on recovery, to listing endless species of more and more obscure origin and sub specific categories. We are talking bugs (cave spiders in Texas Hill country), plants found on 100 acres,  and any critter standing in the way of a development project (pipeline, oil/gas drilling (dune sage lizard), or to further broad environmental agendas, such as shutting down timber harvest across our western forests (spotted owl). Instead of funds going into recovery, funding has gone to listing and litigation for the last three decades. During this time USFWS has morphed into a predominantly regulatory agency.


  1. Meanwhile state agencies, major partners in species recovery efforts, are broke financially nationwide because of declining hunt and fish license fees, which are their sole source of income for 90% of our states, so their ability to invest in endangered species recovery is severely constrained. Even the Washington Post got this right with a February 2020 headline: “Hunting is slowly dying off and that has created a crisis for the nation’s many endangered species!” There is a sportsman led effort to secure Congressional funding for state agencies, but it has been side tracked by the funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) just passed by Congress last month.


  1. The second outstanding issue, that has largely been ignored by the environmental community at large is the major market for achieving endangered species recovery is on private lands, not public lands. The headlines all this summer and for most of the last year have focused on making the LWCF a permanent annual fund at $900 million, creating another entitlement adding to our national debt load, and where the bulk of funding goes to acquire more public land. As Pushkin observed:” when you build a trough, you will attract pigs.” 71% of the U.S. is still in private ownership. Over 80% of endangered species habitat is on private lands, so that is where the play for endangered species recovery will occur in the 21st century. None of the major environmental groups are paying attention to this market. This is precisely why I created my organization, the Land Conservation Assistance Network (LandCAN) twenty years ago, and today we are the largest conservation information platform for private land owners across the country. We host 130,000 listings including all the federal programs that touch private land owners, the equivalent programs for all 50 states, every land trust and conservation district in the country and well over 40,000 for profit service providers including 5000 tax and estate lawyer and 5000 consulting foresters. We receive over 30,000 visitors a month. In the past year Lowell Baier has given this attention deficit issue focus with his new book: Saving Species on Private Lands, which highlights LandCAN as a resource.


  1. How does LandCAN work for endangered species? We are currently building a nationwide site for monarch butterfly recovery involving an initial ten states: TX, OK, KA, for the first generation coming north from Mexico, and the upper Midwest states of MN, IA, MO, WI, MI, Il, IN, OH, which host the 4th and 5th generation breeders before the southward migration back to Mexican highland wintering grounds. The site is designed down to the county level for service providers to maximize access to local nurseries and resources like Chip Taylors’ University of Kansas Monarch Watch Waystation program. I have reached out to Garden Club of America to try to get them engaged.


  1. In the federal sector most people think that USFWS and Interior are the main conservation agencies. However, the reality is The Department of Agriculture (USDA) is by far the largest player. Interior fields less than $160m annually for endangered species work (Listing $29m, Recovery $100m, coop state funding $36m), USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) alone puts $4billion into on the ground conservation annually. Another largely unrecognized contributor to endangered species recovery is Department of Defense. I learned this banding peregrines with the Army’s Prescott ward in 1973 at Assateague. Today the Navy is the largest funder of marine mammal research work by federal agencies. Many of our Army bases: Ft Riley, Ft Hood, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Ft Stewart, Ft. Bragg, Ft. Benning, Camp Lejeune protect endangered species habitat and are leaders contributing in research and recovery activities.


  1. Third, Kathy asked me about declining bird species. One of the largest sources of bird mortality are wind mills, and the last administration in its fervor to bring on clean energy gave wind mills a free pass to slice and dice millions of birds and bats, endangering both from golden eagles to hoary bats. Michael Shellenberger in his new book Apocalypse Never, which you should all read, writes: “wind turbines pose the single greatest threat to bats after habitat loss and white-nose syndrome”. Further “wind turbines kill big, threatened and slow to reproduce species like hawks, eagles, owls, and condors.” Wind companies enjoy a get out of jail free pass under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, while environmental groups are up in arms over the exclusion of oil ponds that account for a few hundred bird deaths.


  1. Finally, Kathy asked me to speak to the big global picture. First I do not think we are in the midst of a 6th great extinction, as is so often hyped by the media and environmental groups. We have made major success in last 30 years in the US bringing back whoopers, condors, bald eagles grizzlies, wolves, and whales. In Europe you now have wolves in Holland, Europe’s most populous country, bears, wolves and lynx in Spain. Europe is re-wilding. In Africa there have been major success in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia based on private lands and community based conservation which is enshrined in Namibia’s constitution. As you lift people out of poverty conservation of species is propelled forward. We need to continue to restrict wildlife trade, particularly in Asia. One of my contributions was to help create the National Forensic Laboratory in Ashland, OR. which has greatly facilitated trade prosecutions worldwide.