There are over 1,300 endangered or threatened species in the United States today. But many, despite being on the brink of extinction, live safely on millions of acres held in trust by the federal government.
Some of these lands aren’t as far away as you might think – in fact, if you’re traveling by plane, you might have driven or flown right next to it.
San Francisco International Airport may seem like an unlikely place to protect an endangered species. But in a grassy area lined with tracks, dense housing, and a highway overhead, Natalie Reeder spends her days combing through brush to make sure endangered species like the San Garter Snake Francisco are on the right track to prosper.
“Snakes are a native species, and it’s one of the few places on the San Francisco Peninsula where they can survive,” Reader told CBS News’s Michelle Miller. “It is therefore the responsibility of the airport to take care of the population in the habitat where they live.”
Long before federal law required her to wear a mask on airport property, Reeder, the resident airport biologist, was trying to save garter snakes from extinction. The garter snake’s bright blue, orange and black markings are considered among the most beautiful in the world.
“I love snakes, I think, because they’re the ultimate underdog, everyone hates them. They’re just really interesting animals that are misunderstood,” she said. “So I think that makes me want to protect them because they don’t have a lot of defenders.”
Unsuspecting travelers who hop on and off 1,300 flights a day would surely be surprised to learn of the airport commission’s efforts to accommodate the snakes. To begin with, 180 acres were set aside and fenced just for them.
“When you think of airport grounds, they would generally still be for airport operations, airplanes, terminals and hotels,” said Doug Yakel, spokesperson for San Francisco International Airport. “As we intentionally leave this land in its natural state and do things to prevent erosion, to prevent flooding of the waters.”
Airport turf should be cut every two weeks to reduce the risk of fire. But rather than relying on heavy machinery, the airport brings in a team of goats to chew the grass, Yaken said. He says it’s an example of how the high-tech airport uses a low-tech solution to conserve space.
San Francisco Airport is not alone in the protection of rare species. In Oregon, the Portland airport is caring for the federally threatened striped lark. Not to be outdone, Los Angeles International Airport is home to the federally protected El Segundo Blue Butterfly, while John F. Kennedy International Airport welcomes travelers with Diamondback Turtles.
People often have the mindset they need to travel outdoors, but Reeder believes San Francisco International shows just how much nature already surrounds us.
“Even a property that looks a little run down can contain a really rare endangered species,” she said.
This year, the San Francisco airport’s efforts took a milestone: the US Geological Survey and the US Fish and Wildlife Service report a resurgence of garter snakes at the airport, making it the largest population in rare snakes in the world in a place that would otherwise have been paved. .