Endangered or at Risk, Protection Is Warranted

While not traditionally thought of as a flash point between conservationists and conservatives over threatened and endangered plants and animals, the East End has its own deep connections to the 1973 act of Congress that President Trump and his allies now seek to undermine. Three birds come most immediately to mind: the bald eagle, piping plover, and osprey, all of which have rebounded from what not that long ago appeared to be near-certain extinction.

Beyond the plovers, eagles, and osprey, more than 100 plant and animal species are in trouble here, according to the Peconic Estuary Program. The number of species on the East End is high in comparison to many other parts of the United States due to the combination of upland, wetland, and deep and shallow water zones, formed over thousands of years, which gave rise to impressive biodiversity. This is something those lucky enough to live here treasure and our visitors are drawn to again and again. It is no surprise that Montauk Point and its lighthouse, looking out over perhaps the wildest of the wild, has become a state symbol of deep pride.

The list of species that are rare or endangered globally, nationally, or locally includes the most endangered sea turtle, the Kemp’s ridley, as well as the leatherback and Atlantic hawksbill sea turtles, roseate and black terns, the Eskimo curlew, the state-listed endangered tiger salamander, the golden eagle, and loggerhead shrike. Offshore, right whales, Atlantic salmon, and short-nose and Atlantic sturgeon are critically endangered, while bluefin tuna and a number of sharks are listed as at risk.

Rare and at-risk plants include silverweed, sandplain gerardia, blue flag, seabeach amaranth, milkweed, and white-edge sedge — many coming under assault from invasive species, such as now-ubiquitous phragmites, while others suffer relentless depredation from an out-of-control deer population, and most of all, from development and other man-made threats.

Not all at-risk plants and animals in the state have earned federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. Listings by the Department of the Interior are highly politicized even though the agency is supposed to safeguard the biodiversity on which all life on earth depends. Because relatively little is known about the complex interplay of species, however, it is impossible to know if any are expendable; therefore, all should be protected. Whether one sees the divine hand of a creator in nature or billions of years of evolution at work, it should not be up to humankind to decide which live on and which disappear.