A Push to Protect Endangered Species and Biodiversity

It’s worth reminding yourself once in a while that life may not exist anywhere else but Earth. We are incredibly lucky to be sharing this planet with the products of billions of years of evolution, in which life has wriggled itself into seemingly every nook and cranny possible. We live among birds and fungi and worms and fish and giraffes and algae and countless other forms of life that are found nowhere else in the universe.

We need to remind ourselves of how lucky we are because we’re rapidly destroying the living world around us. About one million species are facing extinction according to the groundbreaking 2019 Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services assessment. This threat to biodiversity is primarily driven by five human activities: habitat destruction, overexploitation of wildlife, climate change, introduction of invasive species, and pollution.

Recent studies have documented biodiversity loss in Maine and worldwide:

  • Three-fourths of the planet’s lands and two-thirds of its marine environments have been severely altered.
  • Population sizes of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have declined by an average of 68 percent since 1970.
  • In North America alone, nearly 3 billion birds have disappeared since 1970.
  • Modeling reports from the National Audubon Society predict that if the current rate of warming continues, more than 106 of Maine’s bird species will lose habitat in the state by 2050, and some, like our iconic Common Loon, will be pushed out of their breeding range entirely.

The time to act is now, and Maine Audubon is engaged in many initiatives and actions to further our mission of protecting Maine wildlife and habitat. This Congress, we are focusing on two federal initiatives in particular: securing adequate funding for the Endangered Species Act, and supporting a National Biodiversity Strategy.

Funding the Endangered Species Act

The passage of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973 marked a turning point for the environmental movement and remains one of the most important conservation laws in the world. The purpose of the ESA is simple: identify, protect, and restore our most imperiled species. It’s a law that works: the ESA has successfully prevented the extinction of 99% of listed species and resulted in the dramatic recovery of some species, including the Bald Eagle.

As effective as the ESA is at protecting species, it’s been chronically underfunded for decades. According to reports from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees management of the Endangered Species Act, hundreds of endangered species receive less than $1000 a year for their recovery, with many receiving no funding from the Service at all. We need to do better than that, and we can.

To begin to make up for lost ground and support the Biden Administration’s commitment to address the threat of climate change to biodiversity, Maine Audubon is joining state and federal partners to ask that the USFWS receive a budget of $592.1 million, distributed across five programs, starting in FY2022. This funding package will ensure every listed species receives a minimum of $50,000 per year for recovery and will allow the Endangered Species Act to be implemented in the way Congress intended when it dedicated our country to protecting the species and the habitats that need it most.

National Biodiversity Strategy

We know that there’s a biodiversity crisis in this country, which not only threatens our natural resources, but also poses a direct threat to our own health and well-being: a healthy ecosystem helps keep animal-borne diseases at bay, provides us with clean water, and pollinates our valuable crops. We need to better protect our biodiversity, and a National Biodiversity Strategy would be a great start.

While multiple federal agencies are already tasked with protecting and conserving key aspects of biodiversity in the U.S., there is no coordinating policy to maximize these efforts or facilitate collaboration among them. The national effort has fallen further behind in recent years due to damaging administration of key laws and programs and anemic funding.

A bipartisan bill introduced by Colorado Representative Joe Neguse, H.Res.69 calls on the federal government to establish a National Biodiversity Strategy to tackle species extinction and address the primary threats to biodiversity and ecosystem services. This approach would allow the U.S. to protect its natural legacy for today and for generations to come while also playing a leading role on the international stage in addressing the biodiversity crisis.

Supporting implementation of the Endangered Species Act and establishing a National Biodiversity Strategy would go a long way toward reversing the wildlife declines in Maine and around the country. The time is now to ask Congress to support these policies.