Critically endangered

The California condor is a critically-endangered species. Recently, the meaning of that term “critically endangered” literally hit home.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) has classified the California condor as “critically endangered” since 1994. The IUCN’s current scale for classifying living species has 6 steps, from species of “least concern” to “extinct in the wild”. Critically endangered is just one step back from extinct in the wild.

The IUCN has now classified the green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) as critically endangered. I have one of these trees growing in my yard. About a dozen years ago, I bought this tree at a local nursery. The misshapen young tree, with a stem perhaps 2 inches in diameter, was an end-of-the-season sale item. It has since grown into a fine specimen that is taller than my 2-story house. The beautiful bark bears more than one species of lichen.

01 Green ash bole

Over the years, the California condor’s status as an endangered species has become familiar to me. Perhaps I have even become comfortable with that status. When I encounter yet another mention that the condor is endangered – something that can happen multiple times in a day – it no longer registers.

Learning that the green ash is now critically endangered felt like a punch in the gut. I was, of course, reminded of the condor, a reminder that carried real impact for a change.

The green ash and related species of ash trees are a common component of forests in the eastern USA. But these wonderful trees are now being wiped out by an insect called the emerald ash borer.

The emerald ash borer has been in my area for several years now. So checking on my green ash’s health is part of my routine.

I attribute my green ash’s survival – for now – to its relative isolation. The neighborhood where I live is surrounded by dairy farms and their fields of soybeans, corn, and alfalfa.

But since learning that the green ash is critically endangered, I can’t look at my lovely tree without also thinking of California condors.