The Dudley Bluffs bladderpod is a small plant endemic to the Piceane Basin in Rio Blanco County, Colorado. It was only discovered in the early 1980's and listed as endangered around 1990. Its existence is now threatened by the expansion of oil and gas exploration in Colorado's Western Slope.
The Dudley Bluffs bladderpod is a small plant, not cute or lovable except perhaps to a botanist or extreme naturephile. It does not appear to be a keystone, umbrella, or indicator species for its ecosystem; its presence is not of overwhelming importance to its environment or many other species. It has no known economic or medicinal value. A careless hiker might step on one without even noticing, and the fact that it wasn't even discovered until the 1980's is a testament to its relative smallness and insignificance. Why bother trying to protect it?
Here's why. For one thing, it is noble and good to defend the small, innocent and defenseless. The bladderpod is all of those things. In fact, the best reason to protect the bladderpod is precisely that it is useless. What "good" is the bladderpod? None whatsoever. It doesn't do anything for us. It has no economic value now, and probably never will. You could buy and sell them for a penny, but why would you, they're worthless. But -- and here is audacious nobility -- we want to save them anyway. Because they don't need to do anything for us to be valuable. Because they are a little beauty of their own, whether we recognize it or not, and we ought to protect beauty everywhere. Because they're a part of Colorado's natural heritage. Because they're a unique bit of life, a part of life on earth, and they deserve a fair chance at existence.
The Dudley Bluffs baldderpod could become a flagship species for arguments for the intrinsic value of life. Arguing these sorts of things before decision makers with money at stake might not yield funding, or stop drilling pads from being constructed. The bladderpod might go extinct. But what if you made such a ruckus along the way that it turned a few heads, got a few people thinking about nature in terms other than how they can make money off of it? What if the bladderpod's legacy were to start the ball rolling toward evolving our outlook on nature, toward a majority of people recognizing and genuinely considering the intrinsic value of life? In some Utopian future, there might be an odd looking granite monument in Denver somewhere, inscribed, "Here lies the Dudley Bluffs bladderpod, a little plant that changed our philosophy."
Long live the bladderpod!