Maryland's Department of Natural Resources has completed a statewide review of the state's rare species and is proposing to revise the Threatened and Endangered Species list.
Several years ago, in concert with the Chesapeake Bay protection effort, DNR reviewed the rare plants, animals and habitats of Maryland's tidewater counties. As a result of that review, in 1987 the Threatened and Endangered Species list was expanded from 33 species to a total of 342 species.
Now, the rare species of Central and Western Maryland have been reviewed, and the department is proposing to add an 281 species, including the northern goshawk, the barking treefrog and the early coralroot orchid, to the list. Five previously listed species are proposed for removal.
Why should we be concerned about endangered species? Janet McKegg, director of the department's Natural Heritage Division, said: "Endangered species can act as a miner's canary to warn us of threats to our health and well-being. Miners used to carry caged canaries down into the mines with them because the canaries were more sensitive to poisonous gases than the miners.
"If the canaries stopped singing and succumbed, the miners knew they had to evacuate the mine and reach fresh air quickly. Throughout the world during the last decade, many species of amphibians have suffered a rapid, devastating decline in their numbers. Such precipitous declines in once common species should warn us that our own well-being may be in jeopardy."
Habitat destruction and fragmentation are the main threats to Maryland's rare species. Additional threats include competition and habitat disruption from non-native species and diseases, acid precipitation, global warming, rising sea level and increased ultraviolet radiation due to atmospheric ozone layer depletion.
Most of the species on the Maryland Threatened and Endangered Species list, and those proposed for addition to the list, are so rare that fewer than five members of each species are known to live in the state. In fact more than 200 species are listed by the state as Endangered Extirpated because they no longer can be found in Maryland.
The Maryland Threatened and Endangered Species list has four categories: Endangered, Endangered Extirpated, Threatened and In Need of Conservation.
Endangered species are in danger of disappearing from Maryland.
Endangered Extirpated species are species native to Maryland that are no longer found in Maryland. If a population of a species designated as Endangered Extirpated is discovered in Maryland, the species is automatically reclassified as Endangered.
Threatened species are in danger of becoming endangered in Maryland.
State law says only animals can qualify for the category of In Need of Conservation. These species, while not in immediate danger, are considered to require conservation measures in order to survive in Maryland.
Under the State Threatened and Endangered Species regulations, there are no land-use restrictions concerning Threatened or Endangered plants on private land. But certain restrictions apply regarding Threatened or Endangered animals.
Nevertheless, the presence of rare species is one of the factors considered by local, state and federal agencies when determining the environmental impacts of proposed development projects, and these agencies may require protection measures for rare species and their habitats.
If a rare species is found on private property, DNR seeks voluntary protection for the species and its habitat. For example, both the Natural Heritage Division of the department and the private conservation organization the Nature Conservancy conduct Natural Areas Registry programs under which landowners who voluntarily protect rare species and habitats are presented with a plaque in recognition of their protection efforts. In exceptional circumstances, the department or the conservancy purchase rare species' habitats from willing sellers.
There are 101 plants species considered Endangered, with another 146 species proposed to be added to the list. Another 138 are Endangered Extirpated, with 48 to be added to that list and one already on the list to be removed. And 28 species are Threatened, with 39 to be added and two to be removed.
Thirty-three animals are listed as Endangered, with 27 to be added; 17 species are Endangered Extirpated, with four to be added; five are Threatened, with eight to be added; and 20 are In Need of Conversation, with nine to be added and two to be removed.
For more information on Threatened and Endangered Species list, contact Gene Cooley at the Natural Heritage Division of the DNR at 974-2873.
Bob Spore is a Coast Guard-licensed charter boat captain from Pasadena.
His Outdoors column appears every Friday and Sunday in The Anne Arundel County Sun.