These 14 photos of beautiful American wildlife remind us why we need to protect them.
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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.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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