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Rocky Mountain Wolf Project

When you think of an endangered species, what comes to mind?

African elephants or wild tigers in India? What about pandas in China?

But the truth is, we don’t have to look that far away to find endangered and vulnerable animal species. We have a bunch right here at home in the U.S. And a lot of them are threatened with extinction because of the things that we do to them, like build roads through their habitats or pollute the places where they live.


Since 1973, these animals have enjoyed some protections thanks to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Over 1,600 vulnerable plant and animal species in the United States are covered by this federal law, which provides for their conservation and protection by restricting human activities that threaten them and making it a crime to harm or kill one of the species on the list.

Since it was signed into law, the ESA has helped several species recover — including the bald eagle, which was removed from the endangered species list in 2007 because its population had sufficiently recovered.

The law also benefits people because when it protects animals and their habitats, it helps provide us with clean air and water too.

So, what are some of the North American animals under threat today and what is being done to help protect them?  

Here are just a few of the animals on that list:

1. The gray wolf was mostly exterminated from the lower 48 states because humans hunted and killed them out of fear or to protect livestock.

Today, conservationists are working to help wolf populations recover in a few places — reintroduction projects have helped return wolves to some of their former homes.

2. Loggerhead sea turtles are the most common marine turtle species seen in U.S. waters,  but they're threatened by pollution, shrimp trawling, and development in their nesting areas.

Photo via iStock.

3. The black-footed ferret is the only ferret native to North America but there are only about 370 left in the wild.

They are one of the most endangered carnivore species in the world because of disease, lack of habitat, and because humans poisoned their number one prey — prairie dogs. Once thought to be completely extinct, they were brought back with captive-breeding efforts.

4. The Florida panther once lived in the woodlands and swamps of the Southeast. Today, it is one of the most endangered mammals on Earth with only 100 left in the wild.

The panther's population was decimated after European settlers arrived in the 1600s because they destroyed and fragmented its habitat. The Florida panther is considered an "umbrella species" because protecting this apex predator also keeps its ecosystem healthy and balanced.

5. The North Atlantic right whale gets its name because it was once considered the "right" whale to hunt.

This whale species lives along the Atlantic coast of North America and is still one of the most endangered whale species in the world, even though it has been protected from whaling since the 1930s. Today, it is threatened by ship collisions, entanglement in fishing nets, and ocean noise.

6. The San Joaquin kit fox is a tiny fox — about the size of a domestic cat — and it is one of the most endangered animals in California.

They were once relatively common in California, but after a lot of their grassland habitat was converted into farms and orchards, their population declined. Today, only about 7,000 remain.

7. The piping plover is a small shore bird that lives along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, as well as in the northern Great Plains.

Photo via iStock.

Piping plovers are very sensitive to the presence of humans and too much disturbance on the beach can cause them to abandon their nests. They are also threatened by habitat loss and predators.

8. The Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit is found only in the state of Washington, where its sagebush habitat has been mostly converted to agricultural land or destroyed by human developments.

9. Pronghorns have the longest land migration in North America but this migration is endangered. They are also the fastest land animal on the continent but they are experiencing increasing run-ins with humans and property developments. And two subspecies of pronghorn are already listed on the ESA.

Photo via iStock

10. California condors are the largest bird in North America, with average wingspans of nine-and-a-half feet. For most of the 20th century, their population declined so quickly, they almost went completely extinct.

Photo via iStock.

Many of the birds were killed by poison ingestion and illegal egg collection — which can be devastating because they only lay one egg every two years. At the lowest point, in 1987, their numbers dropped to only 10 birds. Today, thanks to captive breeding, there about 127 birds in the wild — but their fate is still uncertain.

11. The whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America and it is critically endangered.

Photo via iStock.

In the 1800s and 1900s, the species was almost wiped out by habitat loss and hunting — and by 1941, only 15 birds remained. Conservationists worked with local, federal, and international governments to try to save the species, and while they aren't out of the woods just yet, their numbers are slowly growing.

12. Monarch butterflies spend most of their lives migrating across North America, and this journey has become more dangerous for them over recent years.

Photo via bark/Flickr.

Illegal logging, deforestation, agriculture, forest fires, climate change, and increased development all pose threats to this butterfly's migration. Despite the fact that the population of monarch butterfly has declined by 80%, it is not currently protected by the ESA — though the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is in the process of determining whether that will soon change.

These are just a few of the many endangered or threatened wildlife species in North America — and if they are going to continue to survive, they need our help.

They need laws, like the ESA, to protect them, they need scientists working on conservation efforts to keep them alive, and perhaps most importantly, they need support and engagement from people to help work toward their recovery.

There has been a lot of pressure lately to weaken federal wildlife protection laws like the ESA or to de-list animals before they are fully recovered. If laws are weakened, if conservation budgets are cut, or if policy falls short, it will become even more important for us to step up and take preservation into our own hands to make sure that these animals stay safe. After all, without us, they could go extinct.  

But with an engaged and informed public, we can keep fighting the good fight to protect these species for generations to come.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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