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Protecting endangered species is key to maintaining biodiversity


A blanding's turtle, with its dark body and yellow chin, walks through a prairie.
Blanding's turtles are one of the many endangered species in Will County. (Photo courtesy of Matt Serafini)

What comes to mind when you think of endangered species? The mountain gorillas and black rhinos of Africa? Or maybe snow leopards and tigers from Asia?  


These may be the animals that first come to mind when we think about endangered species, but some live much closer to home — even in our own neighborhoods and yards in some cases.  


Will County is home to 97 endangered and threatened species. Most of these are plants, including species like lakeside daisy, turbercled orchid, northern panic grass and Mead's milkweed, but there are also many animals on the list, including species from every group: mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates. Among our endangered animals are Blanding's turtles, starhead topminnows, black-crowned night herons, Hine’s emerald dragonflies and Kirtland's snakes.


Working toward protecting endangered and threatened plants and animals from extinction is key to maintaining our planet’s biodiversity and also to protecting our habitats and ecosystems. While extinction is a normal process in nature — about 99% of all species that have ever existed are extinct — Earth is currently experiencing extinctions at an accelerated rate. In fact, the extinction rate today is as many as 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the background rate of 1 species per million per year. 


Factors contributing to this accelerated rate of extinction include habitat loss, which is the primary driving force, as well as pollution; exploitation of wildlife; introduction of invasive and exotic species outside their natural range; and the spread of disease. The goal of saving endangered species from extinction requires work at many levels, from global on down. And while coordination is necessary for efforts to be successful, there are steps you can take right now to do your part. Here's a few ways you can help our local endangered species. 


Educate yourself 

Taking time to learn about the endangered plants and animals that live in our Will County communities is a good place to start. When you learn more about them, you’ll develop a better appreciation for them and why they are worth saving. Want to take it to the next level? Make it a point to share what you learn with friends, families and neighbors to expand your impact. 


The Illinois Endangered Species Protection Board maintains a register of the state’s threatened and endangered species that is organized by county, making it easy to learn what species near you are at risk. You can also learn more about endangered species from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is the federal agency that is tasked with administering the Endangered Species Act. If you want to expand your knowledge beyond out local and domestic endangered species, the International Union for Conservation in Nature maintains a global database of threatened species.   


Be responsible with your waste  

Most of us probably know that collectively we are generating trash at a rate that is difficult if not impossible to keep up with, but disposing of household items responsibly is critical to the health of our environment. We should recycle, of course, and try to eliminate or reduce the use of single-use products like plastic bottles and paper plates, but it goes beyond that.  


We must also make sure we responsibly dispose of hazardous and toxic chemicals and not put them out with the trash or dump them down a drain or into the toilet. These products can pollute both our water and our land, which in turn can have a negative effect on the plants and animals that live in those habitats. Before disposing of products like paint, antifreeze and furniture polish, consult the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about household hazardous waste disposal


Shop with sustainability in mind 

Our shopping habits have a direct effect on our consumption of natural resources, and being mindful of that is a boon to plants and animals all over the world. Choosing products that are made sustainability — like those made from post-consumer recycled paper and plastic, for example — is a good start. You can also reduce your impact by choosing reusable products — water bottles, coffee cups, straws, silverware, plates and napkins to name a few — instead of single-use items. 


You can, of course, go beyond these steps to have a greater impact. For example, when buying housewares, furniture, flooring and other products made from wood, make sure the wood is not sourced from rainforests. And avoid products that contain palm oil, the harvesting of which contributes to deforestation.  


Be conscious about chemicals 

Herbicides and pesticides are the go-to products for many people looking to control weeds and nuisance insects in their yards and gardens, but the chemicals in these products can pollute the soil and groundwater, thus harming local wildlife. Once the toxic chemicals in these products make their way into the soil and water, they will enter the food chain as animals incidentally consume them as part of their diet


Certain animals are especially susceptible to the harmful effects of herbicides and pesticides. Amphibians, in particular, are vulnerable because of their permeable skin, which allows toxins to more easily enter into their bodies.  


Create a wildlife haven in your yard 

Do you see a lot of wildlife in your yard? You can if design your outdoor space with them in mind. A yard that is friendly to our local critters should include native plants, which will attract native insects. A yard full of native insects will attract more wildlife — birds, mammals and more — foraging for food. These plants also provide homes and shelter for wildlife.


More simple steps you can take to keep or make your yard friendly to wildlife include using garbage cans with locking lids that critters can’t get into and storing pet food and bird seed indoors. And make sure you clean and disinfect both your bird feeders and birdbaths regularly to help prevent disease transmission among birds. 

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