If San Franciscans voted for their totem animal, a little butterfly known as the Xerces Blue would almost certainly be on every ranked-choice ballot. Found here and nowhere else on Earth, the butterfly’s fierce loyalty to these lands reflects our own love for the City, and it also mirrors San Francisco in its compact beauty, and even it’s commitment to diversity: the butterflies’ varied patterns caused early scientists to think that different individuals were actually different species.
But this election is no longer possible. The butterfly has not been seen since the 1940’s and is considered extinct. There will be no miraculous modern-day sighting of the Xerces Blue: it is gone forever, its habitats buried under San Francisco’s west side.
Unfortunately, this may not be the last of our non-human neighbors to go extinct. Even in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area—arguably the Bay Area’s most protected landscape—there are 33 species on the brink of extinction. This is more than any other National Park in continental North America: more than Yosemite, Yellowstone, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks combined.
The Park’s astounding array of imperiled biodiversity could be considered cause for celebration, as we’re fortunate to have such a diverse landscape in public ownership. But it is also cause for concern: the dire status of so many species suggests we should reconsider our relationship with these lands.
In 2008, hundreds of individuals will explore this relationship through the Golden Gate National Recreation Area Endangered Species Big Year. The Endangered Species Big Year is a race against time to see—and save—each of the Park’s 33 endangered species, with trips and recovery actions scheduled all year. In the process, participants may find something more than the recovered Brown Pelican, oiled Western Snowy Plovers, or the last Raven’s Manzanita. They may also find the humility, compassion, and hope to ensure that the Xerces Blue Butterfly’s fate doesn’t befall the Bay Area’s remaining endangered species.
With a perspective, I’m Brent Plater.