Growing list of endangered species creates tough choices
The danger of such a significant loss of the planet’s biodiversity, accelerated by climate change, was underscored last week when the federal government took the rare step of proposing to declare the ivory-billed woodpecker extinct and 22 other species. In the nearly 50 years since the endangered species law came into effect, only 11 species have been declared extinct, a controversial designation that means scientists have given up hope of finding survivors.
Now, with a growing backlog of animals and plants proposed for state and federal endangered species lists, conservationists are urging the Biden administration to step up efforts to protect endangered species.
“In the past, biodiversity loss was mainly due to habitat loss due to development, direct exploitation of hunting and habitat degradation due to the use of pesticides and invasive species “said Jeffrey Collins, director of conservation science at Mass Audubon, who urged state and federal officials to increase their budgets to protect endangered species. “Climate change is a global threat of an even greater order of magnitude.”
More than 38,500 species worldwide have been identified as threatened with extinction – nearly four times the number in 2000, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. This number has increased as the health of more species has been assessed, but the World Conservation Organization has only surveyed about 138,000 of them, or less than 5 percent of plants and animals. of the planet.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service has listed 939 plants and 727 animals in this country as threatened or endangered. Another 27 species are candidates for listing as threatened or vulnerable, but they have not yet received the protections and formal resources of the Endangered Species Act. Over the next four years, the agency is required by law to assess the status of 430 other species.
Massachusetts, which has a separate species classification system in the state, has listed 217 endangered, 108 threatened, and 108 other species of special concern.
Collins and others have urged the Biden administration to spend more money to speed up the cash listing process, an often politicized and bureaucratic process that now frequently takes more than a decade.
The Biden administration has proposed spending $ 22.3 million on the program that assesses whether the species are threatened or endangered and should be added to the list, $ 1.5 million more than what had been posted in the last year of the Trump administration.
“It’s not enough for the service to do what it needs to do,” said Jacob Malcom, director of the Center for Conservation Innovation at Defenders of Wildlife in Washington, DC.
His group and others have urged Congress to more than double this budget. “This is what the agency needs to do its job in a timely manner,” he said.
As warming temperatures change habitats, promote the spread of invasive species and diseases, and reduce areas where many plants and animals can take refuge from development and hunting, efforts to protect species will only grow stronger. urgently needed over the next few decades, said Malcom. .
“I don’t want to sound too fatalistic, but as more and more populations decline, we will need a national strategy to be able to meet this demand,” he said.
Noah Greenwald, director of endangered species at the Center for Biological Diversity, said more needed to be done to isolate the process of protecting species from politics, as Republicans have often prevented species from being listed as threatened or endangered. of disappearance. The listing of a species comes with important protections for their habitats and can have major financial consequences for those who work near these areas.
Former President Donald Trump’s administration has listed fewer species than any of its predecessors since the Endangered Species Act came into effect in 1973, approving only 25 in during his four years in power. In contrast, President Barack Obama approved 360 during his eight years, while President George W. Bush only allowed 62 species to benefit from the protections during his eight years. President Bill Clinton during his two terms approved 523.
“The species listing program has just been plagued by political interference, bureaucratic malaise and a lack of funding,” Greenwald said. “This has had real consequences for species, with some going extinct while waiting to be protected.”
Carney Anne Nasser, a researcher in the Animal Law and Policy Program at Harvard Law School, noted that some state lawmakers have been so fed up with the lack of federal action in recent years that they have introduced bills to extend species protection in their state, regardless of what federal regulators decide.
“After an administration which has waged an all-out war on wildlife, we must take significant steps to redress the ship, to prevent future species from being taken off the list due to their extinction,” he said. she declared. “We should have full confidence that these decisions are made with the best scientific evidence available, and that economics and politics do not interfere.”