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Endangered animals receive state protection
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- When President George W. Bush placed 29 species on the protected lists with the most recent Endangered Species Act in late August, he included a species of toad found only in one pond in Harrison County.
The gopher toad now joins more than 700 other Mississippi plants and animals receiving state or federal protection because of dwindling numbers. Numerous others are being monitored to see that their numbers are maintained and improved.
John Guyton, Extension youth environmental specialist at Mississippi State University's Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi, said monitoring programs, fines and land-use restrictions are enacted to protect and bring back endangered species.
"Area property owners are notified when a species is put on an endangered list," Guyton said. "Steps are taken to protect the animal or plant and its habitat from being further destroyed."
Urban sprawl is responsible for some plant and animal numbers declining and the animals being displaced.
"Large numbers of animals are being turned in to wildlife rehabilitation centers because they are being hit and hurt, or are just running out of habitat," Guyton said.
Cynthia Rickis-Gordon is an environmental biologist in Jackson with the Mississippi Natural Heritage Program, part of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. This department keeps the Natural Heritage Database of plants and animals being monitored.
She said there are federal and state lists of plants and animals that are threatened, endangered or of special concern. The state tracks three levels of special concern, with S3 having the highest populations and S1 being closest to threatened status.
"We used to track up to S5, but we've gotten to the point where we only track S1 through S3," Gordon said. "We've repopulated S4 and S5 off the special concern list."
The federal Endangered Species Act sets penalties for harming protected species, and states often add further guidelines of their own. In-state, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks is responsible for enforcing the endangered species laws, with assistance from state or federal law enforcement agencies.
Since 1976, the Natural Heritage Database has collected information on the status of rare species and elements of natural diversity. Their goal has been to identify the state's most significant natural features.
According to the database, there are more than 2,500 species of plants in Mississippi. Many are quite common, but 376 are listed as of special concern and 25 others are given "watch" status as they have the potential to become of special concern. About 1,500 animals, including fish, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals, live in the state, most in healthy numbers. There are 331 of special concern, and an additional 31 species are designated "watch" status.
For more information, contact Dr. John Guyton, (228) 388-4710.