Protected too late: US authorities report more than 20 extinctions
The ivory-billed woodpecker, which bird watchers have searched for in the Arkansas bayous, is gone forever, federal officials say. The same is true of Bachman’s Warbler, a yellow-breasted songbird that once migrated between the southeastern United States and Cuba. The song of the Kauai O’o, a Hawaiian forest bird, exists only on recordings. And there is no longer any hope for several types of freshwater mussels that once filtered streams and rivers from Georgia to Illinois.
A total of 22 animals and one plant are expected to be declared extinct and removed from the endangered species list, federal wildlife officials said on Wednesday.
The announcement could also offer a glimpse into the future. It comes against a backdrop of a worsening global biodiversity crisis that threatens a million species with extinction, many of them within decades. Human activities like agriculture, logging, mining, and dam construction take habitat from animals and pollute much of what remains. People poach and overfish. Climate change adds a new danger.
âEach of these 23 species represents a permanent loss to our country’s natural heritage and to global biodiversity,â said Bridget Fahey, who oversees species classification for the Fish and Wildlife Service. “And it’s a sobering reminder that extinction is a consequence of human-caused environmental change.”
The extinctions include 11 birds, eight freshwater mussels, two fish, a bat and a plant. Many of them were probably almost extinct by the time the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973, officials and advocates have said, so perhaps no conservation measures have been taken. could have saved them..
“The Endangered Species Act was not passed in time to save most of these species,” said Noah Greenwald, director of endangered species at the Center for Biological Diversity, a non-profit group lucrative. “It’s a tragedy.”
Since the law was passed, 54 species in the United States have been removed from the endangered list because their populations have recovered, while 48 others have improved enough to go from threatened to threatened. So far, 11 listed species have been declared extinct.
A 60-day public comment period on the new batch of 23 begins Thursday. Scientists and members of the public can provide information they would like the Fish and Wildlife Service to consider before making a final decision.
Without conservation, scientists say, many more species would have become extinct. But with the humans transforming the planet so radically, they add, there is still a long way to go.
âBiodiversity is the foundation of social and economic systems, but we have failed to resolve the extinction crisis,â said Leah Gerber, ecologist and director of the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes at Arizona State University.
Next month, discussions will intensify on a new global biodiversity agreement. One proposal that has recently gained traction is a plan, known as the 30×30, to protect at least 30% of Earth’s land and oceans by 2030.
Scientists do not report extinctions lightly. It often takes decades of unsuccessful research. About half of the species in this group were already considered extinct by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the world authority on the status of animals and plants. The Fish and Wildlife Service has progressed more slowly in part because it is behind schedule, officials said, and tends to prioritize protecting species that need it rather than removing protection from it. those who don’t need it.
Most of the last confirmed sightings were in the 1980s, although a Hawaiian bird was last documented in 1899 and another in 2004.
No animal of the lot has been sought after more passionately than the Ivory Beak, the largest woodpecker in the United States. Once inhabiting the ancient forests and swamps of the southeast, the birds declined as European settlers and their descendants cleared the forests and hunted them. The last confirmed sighting was in Louisiana in 1944.
But in 2004, a kayaker named Gene Sparling sparked a wave of research when he saw a woodpecker that looked like an ivory beak in an Arkansas swamp. Days after hearing about it, two experienced bird watchers, Tim Gallagher and Bobby Harrison, flew out to join him in a search. On day 2, paddling in their kayaks, they were about to stop for lunch when suddenly a large bird flew right in front of them. “Tim and I both shouted ‘Ivory-bill!’ at the same time, âMr. Harrison recalled.
In doing so, they scared the bird away.
But men are adamant that they have had a clear glimpse of the distinctive wing markings that distinguish an ivory beak from its more similar relative, the large woodpecker. “It was undeniable,” said Gallagher.
A crowd of birders from Cornell University, several other searches, a few reported sightings and a blurry video later, a 2005 article published in the journal Science stated “The Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) persists in America of the continental North â.
Controversy ensued. Some experts have argued that the images were great peaks. Repeated attempts by state and federal wildlife agencies to find the bird have been unsuccessful, and many experts have concluded that it is extinct.
When Amy Trahan, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, completed the most recent assessment of woodpecker species, she said, she had to make her recommendation based on the best available science. At the end of the report, she checked a line next to the words âremove from list on the basis of extinctionâ.
âIt was probably one of the hardest things I’ve done in my career,â she said. “I literally cried.”
The islands, where wildlife has evolved in isolation, have been particularly affected by extinctions caused by the introduction of alien species into the ecosystem by humans, and 11 of the species targeted by the proposed delisting originate from ‘Hawaii and Guam. Pigs, goats and deer destroy forest habitat. Rats, mongooses and brown snakes feed on native birds and bats. Mosquitoes, which did not exist in Hawaii until they arrived on ships in the 1800s, kill birds by infecting them with avian malaria.
Hawaii was once home to over 50 species of forest birds known as honey lianas, some of them brightly colored with long, curved beaks used to drink nectar from flowers. Taking into account the extinctions proposed in this lot, only 17 species remain.
Most of the remaining species are now subject to a heavier siege. Birds that lived higher in the mountains were once safe from avian malaria because it was too cold for mosquitoes. But because of climate change, mosquitoes have spread higher.
âWe are seeing very dramatic population declines associated with this increase in mosquitoes which is a direct result of climate change,â said Michelle Bogardus, deputy field supervisor for the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office.
Only a few species have shown resistance to avian malaria, she said, so most are likely to disappear unless mosquitoes can be controlled across the landscape.
Freshwater mussels are among the most endangered groups in North America, but scientists don’t know enough about the eight species on the list to say for sure why they have gone extinct. The extinctions are likely linked to reservoirs humans have built over the past 100 years, federal biologists have said, essentially turning rivers from mussels to lakes.
Has the change of habitat affected any aspect of their carefully choreographed life cycle? Were the filters also injured by sediment or water pollution?
Freshwater mussels are based on breathtaking adaptations developed over untold years of evolution. Females attract fish with an appendage that resembles a minnow, crayfish, snail, insect or worm, depending on the species. The mussels then shed their larvae, which attach themselves to the fish, forcing it to take cover and eventually distribute them.
Perhaps the mussels became extinct because their host fish moved or itself disappeared.
âI don’t think we fully understand what we’ve lost,â said Tyler Hern, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist whose job includes recovering freshwater mussels. “These mussels had secrets we will never know.”