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On Sep. 29, the United States Fish and Wildlife Services released a list of 23 species that they are proposing to remove from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to label as extinct. This is concerning. You should be concerned.
The ESA is a program meant to provide intervention and protection for species at risk of becoming extinct. Obviously, as these 23 species were marked extinct, this intervention came too late.
One of the species on the list being marked extinct is the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, though the species hasn’t been seen since 1944. The downfall for this bird was likely in the early 20th century, according to a National Geographic article, when “old-growth forests of the South were being cut down as fast as timber companies could run their mills.”
We were the ruin for the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker. Our behaviors became their doom. And they aren’t the only ones to have been afflicted.
Many of the species on this list are native birds from Hawaii. Fun fact about Hawaii: it has been dubbed “The Extinction Capital of the World.” Not a great look for the U.S. But let’s take this back to 1778 for a moment when James Cook first went to the Hawaiian islands. This was the beginning of many species’ doom (and the indigenous people though I won’t be going into that in this op). When Cook went to the islands he prompted a flood of people traveling to the islands for resources and tourism, in later years. This increase in human activity has led many bird species of Hawaii to go extinct.
Hawaiian birds are able to go extinct easily because of factors including habitat loss, introduced species, avian diseases, mosquitos and climate change. Human impact, whether it be direct or indirect, has all contributed to these factors. Humans have destroyed these birds’ habitat, they’ve introduced invasive species (whether it was on purpose or not), they’ve introduced diseases that are deadly to them and have most definitely been a leading contributor to the climate crisis.
This is a biodiversity crisis. And it hasn’t just begun this year; it is an ongoing crisis and this only adds to the load. Climate change has been a huge contributor to the loss of species, due to its direct and indirect effects; it has even been referred to as an “escalator to extinction.” This is because as temperatures increase, they exceed the temperature maximum which some species can handle. In response, species will shift their ranges farther north in order to remain in temperature zones they can handle. But eventually, species will run out of places where they can move to.
“With climate change and natural area loss pushing more and more species to the brink, now is the time to lift up proactive, collaborative, and innovative efforts to save America’s wildlife,” said United States Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland.
This biodiversity loss isn’t just bad for the species going extinct: there is a trickle-down effect that impacts other species including humans. For example, birds act as pollinators for plants; when you lose these pollinators you now leave plants who need to either self-pollinate or risk not getting pollinated.
There is some hope though. The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker was assumed to be extinct before in the past but was rediscovered in the 1920s and ’30s. John Fitzpatrick, a professor at Cornell Lab of Ornithology, believes that the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker might not be extinct. He is petitioning to keep the bird on the ESA list, believing they are not completely gone and still in need of conservation aid. Fitzpatrick argued there is proof of periodic evidence of their existence, though, according to the United States Fish and Wildlife Services website the last official time the bird was spotted was in 1944.
Fitzpatrick agrees though that we are in a biodiversity crisis that is only being exacerbated by man-made climate change. In 2020, we lost 32 orchid species in Bangladesh, 65 North American plants and 17 freshwater fish from the Philippines, in addition to a whole slew of other species.
You cannot deny the extinction events which are occurring and we would all be wise to make ourselves familiar with what the effects of losing these species will look like.