May 19th is Endangered Species Day and 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In 1973 the bill was passed with almost unanimous bipartisan support to protect species in danger of extinction. Fifty years later, 55 species have recovered—including the bald eagles we regularly see along the Laguna de Santa Rosa! While bald eagles are no longer on the list, 1,678 animal and plant species are listed as threatened or endangered and 23 species have gone extinct. Clearly more work is needed!

Fifty-six of these federally-listed species are found in Sonoma County. In the Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed well-known animal species such as the coho salmon, California tiger salamander, red-legged frog and the northern spotted owl are protected under the ESA, as well as plant species like the Pitkin marsh lily, Sebastopol meadowfoam and Vine Hill clarkia.

The Laguna Foundation does conservation and restoration work throughout the watershed to help save these rare and endangered species. We work directly with Sonoma sunshine, Burke’s goldfields and Sebastopol meadowfoam, collecting seed, growing them out in our nursery, and replanting them in places where we know they used to thrive. In other cases, we are working to protect the habitat of the last remaining populations in the field, including Pitkin marsh lily, white sedge and Vine Hill clarkia.

In addition to protecting the endangered species themselves, the ESA also protects their critical habitat. In this way the listed species can serve as flagship species, the protection of one species provides protection for the whole community of species that rely on that critical habitat. The four listed endangered vernal pool species provide protection to all the other vernal pool species on the Santa Rosa Plain, from frogs to pollinators. In the same way the protection of steelhead and coho salmon provides protection for riparian corridors along Copeland, Mark West and Santa Rosa Creeks. The work we do planting trees and other native species shades the creeks, providing the cool water that salmon and other native fish need to survive.

The Endangered Species Act is a critical tool that has shaped conservation and restoration work nationally and internationally. While success stories are still rare, we celebrate each on and strive to explain why these protections are so important as we inspire appreciation of all the species in the Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed.