Extirpated Species

Maryland and the Mid- Atlantic Region had much different plant and animal communities before European settlers arrived here. Early accounts by explorers and naturalists spoke of an abundance of wildlife-- moose, elk, deer, black bear, lynx, bobcat, wolves, bison, and cougars. Early accounts say that 90% of Maryland was composed of old growth forests. Most of this old growth was removed to build early settlements or clear land for agriculture. Many of the large animals that were originally present are no longer found in the Mid-Atlantic or they exist in very small populations. A term used for populations that are locally extinct in one area but found in other regions is “extirpation.” Extirpation of species from a region can be the result of human activity, or it can be the result of external factors. Some of the activities that caused these large mammals to become locally extinct from Maryland include unrestricted and commercial hunting, bounties placed on predatory animals, loss of habitat, large scale cutting of forest, pollution, introduction of exotic species, and other conflicts resulting from the growth of our region. This period of unrestrained expansion and exploitation lasted until the early 1900’s when a general conservation ethic swept across America as a whole. Early conservation efforts that regulated hunting, promoted wise management of our natural resources, and reestablished habitat allowed populations of white tail deer, wild turkey, and bobcat to bounce back; but animals like the red and gray wolf, elk, cougar, bison, and moose did not rebound. Federal, state, local, and private conservation groups sprang up that helped provide the manpower and guidance necessary to help reinvigorate our natural resources.

Gray Wolf

Today there remains many factors that could result in the extirpation of plant and animal species, or even the loss of the species altogether. The loss of critical habitat such as large blocks of forest, old field communities, bogs, marsh, and other wetlands impacts plants and animals that are dependent on these communities. Cave destruction or disturbances have caused declines in certain species, especially bats. The importation of non native plants and animals greatly impacted our region. Chestnut blight, Dutch elm disease, and tree of heaven affected early forests; and such influences continue today, at a more accelerated rate as we grapple with coyote, emerald ash borer, gypsy moth, barberry etc. Pollution and acid rain also impact the environment and has been blamed for the loss of plant and animal species. The widespread use of chemicals such as DDT in the 1950’s had a dramatic effect on bird populations. Weather patterns, whether they are the result of natural cycles or global warming, are having an influence on plant distributions, animal populations, water level changes, and migration patterns.

Article by Mike Kay, FCFCDB member

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