This Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sounded the death knell for 22 different animal species, as well as one plant species, declaring them extinct. The list includes 10 species of birds and bats localized entirely to the Pacific islands, as well as 8 different types of freshwater mussels. However, perhaps most notably, wildlife officials listed the ivory-billed woodpecker as officially extinct.
The striking black bird with tufts of vibrant red feathers jutting from the back of its head and a slick white stripe running from its neck along the full length of its back once populated the southeastern United States. However, as the country blossomed throughout the nineteenth century, logging destroyed much of its habitat. Additionally, hunters targeted them for use by hat makers and private collectors.
Its last known sighting occurred in 1944, though its dwindling population helped call government to action. In 1973, with the passage of the Endangered Species Act, it became illegal to “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect” species deemed endangered. Alas, it was likely already too late for the ivory-billed woodpecker. Still, national efforts launched to search for the elusive bird in hopes it could be restored to its former glory.
While none of these efforts turned up any ivory-billed woodpeckers, proponents of the Endangered Species Act point out that 99 percent of its list remains extant. Conservationists credit the legislative action with the resurrection of the bald eagle, grey wolf, humpback whales, and the American alligator. Yet, these success stories belie a much longer list of animal species still struggling to recover. Only 3 percent listed have ever been removed from the list after recouping their population.
More Bird Species Becoming Extinct
The story of the ivory-billed woodpecker is not singular among bird species. A study concluded in 2019 revealed a startling dropoff in the bird population of North America. A team of researchers led by Kenneth Rosenberg, a Cornell University conservation scientist, used a variety of methods to track the rise and fall of bird activity. By utilizing weather radar, bird surveys, and computer models for 529 different bird species, they uncovered a 29 percent decrease in bird population.
Estimates for 1970 amounted to around 10.1 billion birds living across the United States and Canada. That figure fell to 7.2 billion by the study’s published date.
Some birds species fell off more drastically than others. For example, waterbird species fell about 21.5 percent from their 1970 population levels, whereas the study singled out bobwhite quail as dropping a staggering 80 percent. Though the study didn’t posit why bird populations dwindled, other studies point to obvious human influence.
One study conducted a few years prior provided estimates on human-caused bird deaths. Annually, cars killed 624 million birds, window collisions were responsible for 214 million, and cats an additional 2.6 billion.
“One of the scary things about the results is that it is happening right under our eyes,” said Rosenberg. “We might not even notice it until it’s too late.”
Complaints Over “Extinct” Distinction
The declaration made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service begins a three month window of discussion regarding the final decision for these 23 species. Critics of the move have blasted the reclassifications as defeatist. Ultimately, they fear, the extinction label breeds pessimism, shutting down efforts to locate endangered species and protect their environments.
While federal wildlife authorities defend the decision as overdue, that the action culls the list of lost causes, some conservationists complain it dries up funding. Craig Hilton-Taylor, a member of Swiss group International Union for Conservation of Nature, criticized the list update to NPR. “Suddenly the money is no longer there, and then suddenly you do drive it to extinction because you stop investing in it,” he said.
A Worsening Extinction Crisis
The loss of these 22 animals is only the latest in an ongoing extinction crisis observed by biologists across the globe. Scientists document the rapid disappearance of biodiversity as occurring up to 1,000 times faster than the natural rate. Ordinarily, the rate of extinction amounts to approximately 1 to 5 species annually. Instead, that low figure doesn’t even match the current daily extinction rate estimated by biologists.
Climate change accounts for some of these losses, however, the majority at the juncture remain habitat incursion and destruction. With the rapid expansion of the human footprint into environments formerly dominated by wildlife, animal species fail to adequately cope. Meanwhile, efforts to protect these endangered species aim to hedge largely unchecked development. Conservationist measures like the designation of a wildlife corridor in Florida help stem the loss, but without widespread adoption, these 22 extinct species only mark the beginning of what will prove to be an era of extinction.
Below is the complete list of the 23 species:
|Turgid-blossom pearly mussel
|San Marcos gambusia
|Large Kauai thrush
|Yellow-blossom pearly mussel
|Phyllostegia glabra var. lanaiensis
|Little Mariana fruit bat
|Tubercled-blossom pearly mussel
|Green-blossom pearly mussel
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Leo's Book Club/Shutterstock.com
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
How many animal species from the endangered species list have been declared extinct?
Prior to today’s announcement, only 11 species that appeared on the endangered list have been reclassified as extinct. If after the 3 month discussion window federal wildlife officials haven’t changed their opinion, that number will increase to 34. Conversely, the number that have been removed because they recovered what biologists consider a healthy population is 54. Additionally, 48 shifted their classification from endangered to merely threatened.
How many species are on the list? How many get added annually?
Presently, the list comprises 2,244 different species that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers endangered. Only 1,618 reside within the territory of the United States. Of those, the majority are actually plants, making up 884. Additionally, there are 96 mammals, 95 birds, 36 reptiles, 35 amphibians, and 163 fish species. Since the inception of the Endangered Species list in 1967, the number added each year varied wildly. Multiple years saw zero additions, while in 1994 there were 128 species added to the list.
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