Spotted a San Joaquin kit fox, California least tern, or Lange's metalmark butterfly while out and about in the Bay Area lately? Anyone who has is among a lucky few: all three Bay Area species are hovering on the brink of extinction. And they are not alone. The Bay Area's California clapper rail and salt marsh harvest mouse have also been almost completely wiped out. Species extinction has reached its highest rate since approximately 65 million years ago, when the dinosaurs disappeared. In the Bay Area, the abundance of unique species is rivaled only by their precarious status.
Despite the well-publicized success of a few species, such as the gray whale and brown pelican, more and more Bay Area species are requiring protection under the Endangered Species Act. The Bay Area, although it accounts for only 4 percent of California's acreage, may be home to as much as 36 percent of the state's total number of federally listed endangered and threatened species -- 105 out of 288.* Endangered or threatened species in the Bay-Delta include 13 mammals (nine of which are marine species that migrate up the coast), eight birds, seven reptiles (including four sea turtles), one amphibian, 11 fish, and 14 invertebrates. The Bay Area is home to 51 listed plants -- an astonishing 42.5 percent of all the federally listed plant species in the state. In Santa Clara County alone, 11 plant species are locally extinct, while three mammals, six birds, one amphibian, three reptiles, and seven fish have been classified as endangered or threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (An endangered species is one that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined is in danger of extinction. A threatened species is one that the agency has determined is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.)
* Based on June 2001 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report.