Author: Allan Crawford (introduction by Terry Tempest Williams)
Publish Date: August 8, 2023
Publisher: Tin House
Catalog ID: ISBN: 978-1953534897
Author website: https://www.allencrawford.net/
by Kevin Wolf
…highlighted in red and yellow is quoted directly from the 44-page ESA. This is the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA).
Included in A Wild Promise are eleven species illustrations with few details, and eighty-three illustrations with hand-lettered detailed information, including its scientific name, where it once had been and surviving location, cause, if any, of its continued decline, estimate of how many remain, and when it was listed as endangered or threatened, and for a few when it was delisted. Missing from this beautifully illustrated tome are how a species gets listed under the ESA, the meanings of various listing categories (threatened, endangered, extinct—though a few or one might yet live), and what it takes for a species to be delisted. From the ESA, “Endangered” means “in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range;” and “threatened” means a species “likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future.” The ESA is administered by the Secretaries of the Interior, Commerce, and Agriculture, with latter for importing or exporting plants and seeds. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “There are over 1,300 species listed as either endangered or threatened in the United States under the ESA.” Most species illustrated in A Wild Promise are very colorful. I recommend A Wild Promise for Crawford’s beautiful illustrations, and information of a small subset of the endangered species over six ecological niches (mountain, ocean, desert, wetland, grassland and woodland).
Climate change and pandemics are putting humans at risk for destruction from worsening storms, our own habitat destruction, and worsening diseases. Terry Tempest Williams, in the introduction, writes about the climate change—though equally applicable to pandemics—“Our ignorance and arrogance are threatening life on the planet as we continue to live as though nothing has changed, as though our reliance on fossil fuels has no consequences, as if holding fast to our beliefs that we have the right to drill for more and more oil at greater and greater cost to the Earth and its inhabitants ….”
The artistry, including the hand-lettered iconography every-which-way with varying word sizes on the single or double-page spreads of endangered species, is amazing. I had to circle the illustrated species example as I read Crawford’s remarks about each illustration. In case you have any trouble reading that lettering, Crawford provides the same information in text. Most illustrations are of the animal’s face with some of the creatures in full. A Wild Promise includes small species, such as the Western Bumblebee, Rust-Patched Bumblebee, Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly, and Florida Leafwing Butterfly. There are well-known endangered species, including the Beluga Whale in Cook Inlet Alaska, Monarch Butterfly (mainly from loss of its food source the milkweed plant); Bald Eagle (delisted in 2007 when there were 10,000 left after having as few as 417 in 1963); Utah Prairie Dog; Whooping Crane (from 21 wild and 2 captive in 1941 to 535 in 2010); American Peregrine Falcon (listed in 1970 and delisted in 1999); and Piping Plover (Great Lakes); Red Wolf (fewer than 20 are in the wild and 235 in captivity); there are 72 Orcas remaining as of 2020; and Humpback Whale with “9 populations … delisted due to recovery …” in 2016. Nine fish are illustrated (including Atlantic Salmon, Canary Rockfish, Steelhead Trout, and White River Springfish); and lesser-known species (such as Elkhorn Coral in Caribbean and Florida Keys). There are three plants included: Venus Flytrap (loss from poaching and habitat destruction), Pickering’s Morning Glory its only known populations is in New Jersey, and Dwarf Bear-Poppy found only in Washington County, Utah. Some have been successfully delisted—demonstrating that the ESA works to prevent extinction—so far, they include the Gray Whale in Eastern North Pacific 1994—though still listed in Western North Pacific; Lesser Long-Nosed Bat in 2018; Lake Erie Water Snake in 2011; American Alligator in 1987; Louisiana Black Bear in 2016; Oregon Chub in 2015; Concho Water Snake in 2011; Wood Stork in 2014; Island Night Lizard in 2014; Santa Rosa Island Fox in 2016; Black-Capped Vireo (bird) in 2018; Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel in 2013; Bald Eagle in 2007; Gray Wolf in Wyoming in 2017 and in Idaho and Montana in 2011; Io Hawaiian Hawk in 2020; Canary Rockfish in 2017; Monito Gecko in 2019; Aleutian Cackling Goose in 2001; Brown Pelican in 2009; some Humpback Whale populations in 2016.
For me, simply knowing these animals still exist, is enough. I need not visit their habitat or ever see them face-to-face … I just want to know they will survive and humans will let them be. I hope Crawford’s imagery and the information he provides will help us understand their fragility, and—just as we often want for our own selves—accept their freedom and space, so we should respect other flora and fauna; for this planet is all we have and we better learn to share and care for it if we want to keep surviving. I’m a vegetarian—since August 10, 1980—because I don’t want to hurt animals, nor do I want anyone else to hurt them on my behalf. I try in my own way to get along with other earthly creatures. Public Health should not just be for our own species, but for all those with which we share this planet. Ecology is not one species but a system of sharing; it’s hard to know the ramifications of losing parts of the ecology (Williams writes “diversity equals stability ”); isn’t it best to not have to learn how well we can survive when missing parts?
At the back of the book, there’s a species index and resources for the interested reader (including Center for Biological Diversity, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), National Audubon Society, and Sierra Club) along with U.S. governmental agencies that supports ecology. As Williams writes, “the Endangered Species Act is an act of love that asks for our engagement, each in our own way … ”
If you want to learn more about past species destruction in northeast North America from Colonial times to the 1990s by humans, I recommend Sea of Slaughter (1984 Atlantic Monthly Press) by Farley Mowat. And to learn about the current sixth extinction (aka, Holocene extinction, or Anthropocene extinction) try The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (Picador/Henry Holt & Company, 2014), winner of the Pulitzer Prize, by Elizabeth Kolbert. Like others (e.g., The Nib’s Animal issue), Williams calls the last of a species an Endling, a time for sadness and mourning. She writes, “today, over 1,400 species appear on the Endangered Species list under the jurisdiction of the United States Fish & Wildlife Service, all part of the Endangered Species Act signed into law on December 28, 1973, by President Richard M. Nixon. ” From House and Senate, only four people in total voted against the ESA. There has been gradual watering down of the ESA since its passage. When battles occurred between environmentalists, loggers, and water projects, common ground was sought and found; but battles continue. Williams discusses the International Union of Concern for Nature’s (IUCN) “red data book[’s] … global extinction risk status of animal, fungus, and plant species” begun in 1964 “… with more than 40,000 species threatened …” in 2022. E.O. Wilson, the author of many environmental and ecology works including his autobiography: Naturalist, and quoted by Williams, said, ‘The great majority of species…—possibly in excess of 90%–remain unknown to science.” So shouldn’t we remain careful among that great unknown?
Once a species is gone, it’s gone forever. Who knows how it might help us; or its loss hurt us in the future? It’s better to let it prosper, for our species might depend on it.
Pages 34 – 35; North Atlantic Right Whale “estimate fewer than 350 (about 100 breeding females) … listed as endangered in 1970”
Pages 138 – 139; Rusty-Patched Bumblebee, “87% population decline over the past 20 years … listed as endangered in 2017.”