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Endangered Species in Georgia

July 28, 2016
Loggerhead hatchling headed for sea.

When it comes to wildlife and plants, Georgia is one of the richest states in the nation.

With a landscape that varies from Appalachian mountains to Coastal Plain sandhills and Piedmont swamps to barrier island beaches, we rank among the leaders in amphibian, freshwater fish, reptile and vascular plant species.

But there’s a flip-side. For certain groups of wildlife and plants, Georgia is also among the top states in numbers of at-risk species.

The Problem

Considering only those listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act (these and others are also on state-protected lists):

  • 49 species are endangered, meaning they’re in danger of extinction in all or part of their range if not protected. Examples include North Atlantic right whales, which calve off our coast, and red-cockaded woodpeckers, the only woodpecker that carves its roosting and nesting cavities almost exclusively in living pines.
  • 23 species are threatened, or likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future if not protected.
  • One, the white fringeless orchid, is proposed for federal listing. — As of Oct. 13, 2016, the white fringeless (or "monkeyface") orchid is federally listed as threatened.
  • Four are candidates — gopher tortoise, Hirst brother’s panic grass, sicklefin redhorse and striped newt.

And that’s not counting the 102 species petitioned for federal listing, a process that requires a review of each creature’s status and the threats it faces, such as habitat loss.

The numbers point to a clear need: conserving Georgia’s native animals and plants is critical for future generations to experience the wildlife and wild places we enjoy.

Working Towards a Solution

At the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Nongame Conservation Section, conserving native animals that aren’t legally fished for or hunted, plus rare plants and natural habitats, is our mission. That work involves many partners. It also has produced some successes.

Loggerhead sea turtles, listed as federally threatened, reached a recovery milestone when they laid more than 3,100 nests in Georgia this summer, far beyond the 2,800 set as a benchmark.

Bald eagles, de-listed from the Endangered Species Act in 2007, but still protected by federal and state law, are nesting in growing numbers, more than 200 nests in Georgia this year compared to none in 1970.

We’re working with partners to research and conserve gopher tortoises, hoping to keep Georgia’s state reptile off the Endangered Species list. Using prescribed fire and other methods, more than 146,000 acres were treated to restore sandhill and upland pine habitats across multiple states last year. At Yuchi Wildlife Management Area near Waynesboro, a record 143 juvenile tortoises were released as part of a head-start project.

DNR is also teaming with others in Candidate Conservation Agreements, voluntary agreements with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conserve at-risk species such as the Georgia aster wildflower and sicklefin redhorse, a fish found in only 6 counties worldwide.

All of these efforts are guided by Georgia’s State Wildlife Action Plan. This comprehensive strategy, coordinated by the Nongame Conservation Section and created through the involvement of 100-plus organizations, universities and landowners, focuses conservation where it’s most needed and effective to keep native wildlife, plants and habitats from becoming more rare and costly to restore.

The recently revised plan lists 349 animal and 292 plant species as high priorities for conservation — more numbers that show there’s more work to be done.

You Can Help!

This is where you come in. Public support of conservation is critical.

How can you get involved? Here are a few suggestions:

Rare species? Georgia has ’em. The question is how we keep them, now and for the future.

Last Updated July 11, 2017.

About the Author

Rick Lavender works in communications with Georgia DNR.

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