In the unlikely setting of the world’s most populated military installation, amid all the regimented chaos, you’ll find the Endangered Species Act at work.
There, as a 400-pound explosive resounds in the distance, a tiny St. Francis Satyr butterfly flits among the splotchy leaves, ready to lay as many as 100 eggs. At one point, this brown and frankly dull-looking butterfly could be found in only one place on Earth: Fort Bragg’s artillery range.
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Now, thanks in great measure to the 46-year-old federal act, they are found in eight more places — though all of them are on other parts of the Army base. And if all goes well, biologists will have just seeded habitat No. 10.
One of Earth’s rarest butterfly species, there are maybe 3,000 St. Francis Satyrs. There are never going to be enough of them to get off the endangered list, but they’re not about to go extinct either. They are permanent patients of the bureaucratic conservation hospital ward.
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In some ways, the tiny butterfly is an ideal example of the more than 1,600 U.S. species that have been protected by the Endangered Species Act. Alive, but not exactly doing that well.
To some experts, just having these creatures around means the 46-year-old law has done its job. More than 99.2% of the species protected by the act survive, The Associated Press has found. Only 11 species were declared extinct, and experts say all but a couple of them had already pretty much died out when they were listed.
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On the other hand, only 39 U.S. species — about 2% of the overall number— have made it off the endangered list because of recovery, including such well-known successes as bald eagles, peregrine falcons and American alligators.
Most of the species on the endangered list are getting worse. And only 8% are getting better,...
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