|Themes > Science > Zoological Sciences > Endangered and Rare Species > Endangered Species > Why Save Endangered Species?|
Plants and animals are responsible for a variety of useful medications. In fact, about forty percent of all prescriptions written today are composed from the natural compounds of different species. These species not only save lives, but they contribute to a prospering pharmaceutical industry worth over $40 billion annually. Unfortunately, only 5% of known plant species have been screened for their medicinal values, although we continue to lose up to 100 species daily.
The Pacific yew, a slow-growing tree found in the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest, was historically considered a "trash" tree (it was burned after clearcutting). However, a substance in its bark taxol was recently identified as one of the most promising treatments for ovarian and breast cancer.
Additionally, more than 3 million American heart disease sufferers would perish within 72 hours of a heart attack without digitalis, a drug derived from the purple foxglove.
There are an estimated 80,000 edible plants in the world. Humans depend upon only 20 species of these plants, such as wheat and corn, to provide 90% of the world's food. Wild relatives of these common crops contain essential disease-resistant material. They also provide humans with the means to develop new crops that can grow in inadequate lands such as in poor soils or drought-stricken areas to help solve the world hunger problem. In the 1970s, genetic material from a wild corn species in Mexico was used to stop a leaf fungus that had previously wiped out 15% of the U.S. corn crop.
Plant and animal species are the foundation of healthy ecosystems. Humans depend on ecosystems such as coastal estuaries, prairie grasslands, and ancient forests to purify their air, clean their water, and supply them with food. When species become endangered, it is an indicator that the health of these vital ecosystems is beginning to unravel. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that losing one plant species can trigger the loss of up to 30 other insect, plant and higher animal species.
The northern spotted owl, listed as threatened in 1990, is an indicator of the declining health of the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest. These forests are the home to over 100 other old-growth dependent species, which are at risk due to decades of unsustainable forest management practices.
Pollution off the coast of Florida is killing the coral reefs along the Florida Keys, which serve as habitat for hundreds of species of fish. Commercial fish species have begun to decline, causing a threat to the multi-million dollar tourism industry, which depends on the quality of the environment.
Various wild species are commercially raised, directly contributing to local and regional economies. Commercial and recreational salmon fishing in the Pacific Northwest provides 60,000 jobs and $1 billion annually in personal income, and is the center of Pacific Northwest Native American culture. This industry and way of life, however, is in trouble as salmon decline due to habitat degradation from dams, clearcutting, and overgrazing along streams.
Freshwater mussels which are harvested, cut into beads, and used to stimulate pearl construction in oysters form the basis of a thriving industry which supports approximately 10,000 U.S. jobs and contributes over $700 million to the U.S. economy annually. Unfortunately, 43% of the freshwater mussel species in North America are currently endangered or extinct.
Plant and animal species and their ecosystems form the basis of Americaís multi-billion dollar, job-intensive tourism industry. They also supply recreational, spiritual, and quality-of-life values as well.
Each year over 108 million people in the United States participate in wildlife-related recreation including observing, feeding, and photographing wildlife. Americans spend over $59 billion annually on travel, lodging, equipment, and food to engage in non-consumptive wildlife recreation. Our national heritage of biological diversity is an invaluable and irreplaceable resource. Our quality of life and that of future generations depends on our preservation of plant and animal species.