Federal wildlife officials have recently announced the presumed extinction of some 22 animals that formerly existed in the U.S., including 11 birds, eight freshwater mussels, two fish, and a bat. The source of their elimination is primarily human activity — the upsetting of natural evolutionary changes through habitat destruction, pollution, over-hunting and -fishing, and, potentially most devastatingly, climate change.
We can expect extinction numbers to grow at an unprecedented rate as human populations spread and the earth gets hotter. Two years ago, the United Nations sounded the alarm, warning that a million species of plants and animals around the world, out of eight million existing today, were threatened with extinction, and that climate change has accelerated the rate at which they will leave the face of the earth entirely.
The U.N. estimates that 75% of land environments and 66% of marine environments have already been altered by human activity, causing a 20% reduction in the abundance of land animals, as well as a potential reduction in fish biomass of up to 25% by the end of the century.
For the United States, the picture is less gloomy, at least for the immediate future, thanks to the Endangered Species Act (ESA), passed in 1973, which lists endangered and threatened species and provides for their protection and restoration. The law has, thus far, been a brilliant success, with 99% of listed species brought back from the edge of extinction. Most of the American animals now considered extinct, including many on the most recent list, died off before the enactment of the ESA.
What the ESA has taught us is that we can take effective action to slow extinction rates through sound management of human activities as they affect animal populations and habitat. Without such vigilance, animal species whose existence we have come to take for granted could disappear forever.
To determine the most threatened animals in every state, 24/7 Tempo reviewed the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Environmental Conservation Online System to find two animals listed as “endangered” that are native to each state. Information on the animals’ habitat also came from USFWS.