Thursday 11 April 2019

Why endangered species matter

 March 26, 2019 by Renee Cho, Earth Institute, Columbia University
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was established in 1973 to protect "imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend" and help them recover.
The Trump administration has put forth a number of proposals that would weaken the ESA. These include measures to allow for the consideration of economic impacts when enforcing the ESA, ending the practice of automatically giving threatened species the same protection as endangered species, and making it easier to remove species from the endangered list.
In a way, this is nothing new because the ESA has been under attack for decades from construction, development, logging, water management, fossil fuel extraction and other industries that contend the act stifles economic development. But between 2016 and 2018 alone, there were almost 150 attempts to undercut the ESA; and last year, from July 8 to 22, Republicans in Congress or the Trump administration introduced 24 such measures and spending bill riders.
These bills included efforts to remove the gray wolf's protected status in Wyoming and the western Great Lakes; a plan to remove from the endangered list the American burying beetle that lives on oil-rich land; and a strategy to roll back protection of the sage-grouse, which also inhabits oil-rich land in the West and whose numbers have declined 90 percent since the West was first settled. The Trump Administration recently opened up nine million acres of sage-grouse habitat to drilling and mining.
Endangered species, if not protected, could eventually become extinct—and extinction has a myriad of implications for our food, water, environment and even health.
Extinction rates are accelerating
Ninety-nine percent of all species that have ever lived have gone extinct over the course of five mass extinctions, which, in the past, were largely a result of natural causes such as volcano eruptions and asteroid impacts. Today, the rate of extinction is occurring 1,000 to 10,000 times faster because of human activity. The main modern causes of extinction are the loss and degradation of habitat (mainly deforestation), over exploitation (hunting, overfishing), invasive species, climate change, and nitrogen pollution.

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