Who uses it: the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)
What it means: A species that has experienced or will experience a signficant reduction in its native habitat, with a 50% drop in population over a ten-year period (past, expected, or in combination), and which has fewer than 2,500 adult members in the wild. The full criteria for critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable are here, and the Red List of threatened species is here.
How you can use it: This week, to discuss manatee protection.
The Florida legislature voted yesterday to remove the manatee from its list of endangered species. Scientists estimate that the manatee population is now above 3,000, and my pal Randy White is on record as saying he thinks the official counts are low. Professional watermen have complained for years about the unintended consequences of the manatee protection laws, which they say don't do much to boost the population in any case.
I don't know enough about the issue to have an opinion, but I'm uneasy with declarations of victory in situations like this. Then again, I nearly hit a wild turkey in the road on my last trip back from Montreal, and a pair of bald eagles is nesting just downriver. Species do rebound, given the chance, and then maybe they don't need the protections of law.
This morning I was sitting on the riprap wall behind the old paper factory, watching the Cobbosseecontee rush by (it's very high), when Dizzy started barking behind me. He had cornered something, and I ran over, afraid it was a skunk.
Instead, it was a large turtle. Snapping turtles are the most common kind of turtles up here, but I can't tell one type of turtle from another. Besides, this one had withdrawn completely into its shell, so all I saw was its black dome.
Dizzy waved his paw at it -- he doesn't touch strange animals, he just paws the air in front of them to see whether they run or whether they'll play -- and when the turtle did not respond, he agreed to come away and have a cookie.
I was relieved, particularly when I went to look the turtle up in a field guide and learned that six of Maine's eight turtle species are threatened. Ugly creatures need love too.