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Back from the Brink

Not every endangered species is doomed. Thanks to tough laws, dedicated researchers, and plenty of money and effort, success stories abound

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Arizona ranchers Matt and Anna Magoffin earned an unofficial nomination to the Endangered Species Hall of Fame by hauling a thousand gallons of water per week to a stock tank on their ranch for four years, all to save a frog on its last legs.

Many Southwestern aquatic species have suffered in the past century. Invasive species have altered the desert habitat, fungal diseases have hit frogs and other amphibians, and ranching and the Sun Belt population boom have diverted water, disrupted river and stream habitats and destroyed seasonal watering holes. The Magoffins are part of a coalition called the Malpai Borderlands Group, which created a SafeHarbor agreement for the Chiricahua leopard frog after it was listed as threatened in 2002. Biologists estimate that the frogs have disappeared from 75 percent of their historic range, and today the frog population is at or near its lowest point ever. To help the frog, the Magoffin family rebuilt water tanks, put in wells, poured concrete ponds and moved tadpoles from drought-stricken pools to more reliable water sources.

Biologist Jim Rorabaugh of the FWS in Phoenix credits the Magoffins with paving the way for frog conservation on the one million acres where the Malpai Borderlands Group is active. Most of that land is public, controlled by Arizona, New Mexico, the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management, but much of it is owned privately by ranchers.

“We’re a long way from recovering this species,” says Rorabaugh. “But we’ve got some really good partnerships on the ground.”

 

 

Life With a Top Predator
GRIZZLY BEAR
Status: Threatened in lower 48 states, but maybe not for long Year listed: 1975
Maximum height: Seven feet when standing

“Welcome to Grizzly Country.” The sign is at the entrance to the squat, concrete building that houses the Cody district office of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Mark Bruscino, the agency’s bear management officer, says he’s trying to “keep the peace between people and bears.”

Grizzlies once roamed a vast swath of the Great Plains and Western states, but now occur only in isolated populations in Montana, Idaho, Washington and Wyoming. (They’re doing fine in Alaska.) By the early 1970s, hunting and development pressures caused the grizzly population in the Yellowstone area to plunge to about 150 bears, many of which were raiding trash bins in the national park. In 1975, officials classified the species as threatened in the lower 48.

Today, Yellowstone and its surrounding area, most of which is national forest land, is home to more than 600 bears, and the FWS is considering taking the grizzly off the threatened species list. It is “the wildlife recovery success story of the century,” Bruscino says. Not that it was easy. The great bear is slow to reproduce, reaching sexual maturity at 4 to 5 years of age. Females give birth to only one or two cubs every three to five years. And grizzlies require great expanses of wild country to make a living.

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