19 October 2015 | Center for American Progress News Release
Washington, D.C. — According to a new Center for American Progress study of wildlife population trends in the United States, the Endangered Species Act, or ESA, is effectively preventing the disappearance of wildlife species that are at the brink of extinction, while species not yet protected by the law are declining at an alarming rate.
Using the world’s largest database of wildlife population information, maintained by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, the CAP report finds that species at a lower risk of extinction—in IUCN’s “near threatened” category—are faring worse than species at a higher risk of extinction—IUCN’s “threatened” category.
The CAP report notes that many of the threatened species on the IUCN list are protected by the ESA, which helps explain why this category of plants and animals is faring better than less imperiled species. Among near threatened U.S. plant and animal species, 44 percent are declining in number, compared with 34 percent of species that the IUCN classifies as threatened by extinction.
“For hundreds of American animal and plant species that are veering toward extinction, the Endangered Species Act is the steel guardrail that will keep them alive, but population declines are so severe that we need to be doing more to help wildlife before they reach the brink,” said Matt Lee-Ashley, Director of the Public Lands Project at CAP and co-author of the report. “The Obama administration’s success with the greater sage grouse shows what can be achieved through early, voluntary conservation efforts that help landowners, states, and partners protect the open spaces that America’s wildlife need to thrive.”
CAP’s report recommends that the Obama administration create a new classification for imperiled wildlife, called at risk, that would apply to species that are not listed under the ESA as endangered or threatened. The at-risk designation would not carry any legal or regulatory protections but would identify species that would most benefit from voluntary conservation initiatives and improved alignment of federal, state, and tribal resources. The designation would institutionalize the innovative conservation approach that the Obama administration has applied to the protection of the greater sage grouse and the lesser prairie chicken.
“A new at-risk classification for declining and imperiled wildlife would encourage earlier, voluntary conservation efforts, align federal resources, and help species before they warrant the protection of the Endangered Species Act,” said Nicole Gentile, Director of Campaigns for the Public Lands Project at CAP.
The report notes that because of a shortage of resources, wildlife species can wait decades before federal agencies are able to protect them as threatened or endangered species under the ESA. The authors recommend that these candidate species be among those that are classified as at risk and prioritized for voluntary conservation initiatives. Overall, the IUCN identifies 1,300 plant and animal species in the United States that are imperiled by extinction, including 21 percent of amphibians and 36 percent of insects.
Related resource: New Protections for the Greater Sage Grouse Strengthen President Obama’s Conservation Record by Matt Lee-Ashley
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