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by Aleena Habib September 04, 2022 5 min read

Happy National Wildlife Day!

We celebrate National Wildlife Day twice annually to emphasize the importance of protecting our nation's endangered plants and animals. This year, we are celebrating National Wildlife Day with a special theme: "Recovering key species for ecosystem restoration.”

The United States of America is home to some of the world's most unique wildlife. With our world-renowned national parks, beaches, deserts, and forests, it should come as no surprise that the flora and fauna found in these wild places are the very things that make them so remarkable.

 As human populations grow in the United States of America and wilderness areas become scarce, our national wildlife faces more pressure than ever. For the sake of our planet, we must work together as a nation to preserve, restore, and protect our wildlife and ecosystems.

In honor of National Wildlife Day, we will highlight a few key plants and animals found in the United States of America, and learn more about efforts to save them.

Starting with one of my personal favorites...

The Florida Manatee

manatee underwater

Do you ever wish you could jet off to spend cold winter days soaking up the Florida sun? Your dreams are a reality for the Florida manatee. These one thousand-pound herbivores have their sights set on two things: warm water and food!

They spend their winters basking in the warm springs of Florida and travel close to shore along the east coast during the summer months in search of delicious seagrass and other aquatic plants.

Loss of seagrass, water pollution, boat collisions, and other factors have caused Florida manatee populations to rapidly decline.

In efforts to combat this decline, Florida plans to designate 30 million dollars towards manatee rescue and conservation this year. As Icons of Florida, these adorable “ocean potatoes'' are beloved by many.

Amazing nonprofit organizations such as Save the Manatee Club work diligently with the public to share valuable manatee knowledge and aid in conservation. Combined efforts from the government and conservation organizations make for a promising future filled with manatees and healthy ecosystems.

Learn more here: https://www.savethemanatee.org

The next US resident is the largest living organism in the world!

The Giant Sequoia

giant sequoia tree

As a California Native I may be biased, but I believe the Giant Sequoia is one of the most fascinating living things in the US. Giant Sequoia trees exist in only one place in the world, the western side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. There are around 75,000 Giant Sequoia trees left, spread throughout 70 different groves.

The Giant Sequoia tree has a lush, green crown, soft bark, and a thick trunk that creates the illusion of an elaborate red-brown column breaking through the forest floor.

Just how giant can they be? Coined the King of the Forest, the largest Giant Sequoia is named General Sherman. Not only is this considered Earth's most giant tree, but it also stands as the largest living organism in the world by volume.

Towering over other trees in the forest canopy, General Sherman is 275 feet tall and still growing. General Sherman weighs approximately four million pounds and is 2,200 years old. Giant Sequoias aren’t all as giant as the general, but most of them are between 60-275 feet tall, and up to 30 feet in diameter.

Major threats to Giant Sequoias include climate change, habitat destruction, insect attacks, intense fires, and erosion.

Proper maintenance of forests is essential for their survival. Giant Sequoias are pyrophytic, meaning can tolerate fire and actually need small, periodic fires to assist in their reproduction by opening their fallen seeds with heat. Intense fires fueled by improper forest management can cause irreversible damage and destroy the trees entirely. Defense against intense fires by brave wildland firefighters has helped save many of these iconic trees.

Giant Sequoia trees have very shallow root systems which leave them susceptible to damage and erosion from visitors and high use of their habitats. The establishment of Sequoia National Park has helped tremendously with the protection of this species by ensuring the proper use of their habitat. The Sequoia Parks Conservancy and many other conservation organizations are working hard to solidify a future for these miraculous trees.

Learn more here: https://www.sequoiaparksconservancy.org/sequoia-fund.html

Up next is one of the most endangered marine mammals on the planet..

The Hawaiian Monk Seal

monk seal on beach

The Hawaiian Monk seal is native to, you guessed it, Hawai’i! With only around 1000 of these seals left in the world, they are terrifyingly close to extinction.

Do you wonder where they got their name? The Hawaiian monk seal is named after a fold of skin around their neck which is thought to resemble a monk's cowl. Long before they got this name, they were given a traditional Hawaiian name;'llio holo I ka uaua,’which translates to “dogs that run in rough water.”

Unlike most seals, the Hawaiian Monk seal thrives in warm water, making Hawai’i the perfect, and only place they call home. These seals spend their days off relaxing on sandy beaches. When out at sea, the Hawaiian Monk seals use the gorgeous reefs around these beaches to hunt for fish.

The Hawaiian Monk seal faces severe threats, such as food depletion, disease, human interaction, and marine debris. The loss of food due to climate change and overfishing is detrimental to the health of all marine life, the Monk seal included.

One of the main drivers of population loss for this seal is entanglement in fishing equipment and debris. Hawaiian Monk seals spend a lot of time near the islands, which increases their risk of harmful human interactions.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, the Endangered Species Act, the state of Hawai’i, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act are enforcing strict protection and care for these seals.

Their immediate goals include the mitigation of entanglement, recovery of prey, reduction of marine contamination and debris, and implementation of a Hawaiian Monk Seal management plan.

With these action plans in place, we can hope to see successful improvement in the Hawaiian Monk Seals population.

Learn more here: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/hawaiian-monk-seal#conservation-management

The list of incredible wildlife in our nation is endless. We have only discussed three very valuable pieces of a wildlife puzzle that make the United States of America such a biodiverse and marvelous place. It is a privilege to enjoy and appreciate the wonders that this nation has to offer, but it is imperative that we remember who was here first.

It is our duty to educate ourselves and those around us on just how important our nation's wildlife is, not only for our benefit but for the well-being of the planet. Our wildlife deserves all the recognition it can get, and luckily, we will have another chance to celebrate National Wildlife Day on February 22nd.

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