Mammals Aren't Loners in Extinction Threat

Bog Turtle, Glyptemys muhlenbergi

Earlier this week, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature reported that 25 percent of the world’s mammal species are at risk of extinction in our lifetimes due to habitat destruction and hunting. The IUCN is to be commended for its report.

The untold story here, which is far more ominous, is that the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (which in 2007 won the Nobel Peace Prize for its work) projects that even we if succeed at reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050, approximately 20-30 percent of the species on earth are already at increased risk of extinction due to climate change. So this extinction crisis doesn't just involve hundreds of mammals, but instead, hundreds of thousands and perhaps more than a million species are at risk.According to Bruce Hamilton, the Sierra Club’s Deputy Executive Director and the point person for our Resilient Habitat program, this mass extinction is not inevitable and unavoidable – but it requires a massive global investment in building habitat resilience and resistance to climate change. Says Bruce:

We will need to save large core areas of protected habitat for species and provide connecting corridors so that species can migrate to more tolerable climatic areas. We also will need to reduce stresses placed on species by human activity such as large-scale commercial logging, overfishing, off- road vehicles, overgrazing, and dewatering rivers and streams. All governments across the globe need to work together to solve this problem, with richer industrialized nations – particularly the United States – playing a leading role in providing the resources to build habitat resilience from the tropics to the poles, including in the oceans of the world.
It is good of IUCN to draw attention to the fate of mammals, but plants, amphibians, and fish are even more imperiled by climate change than mammals, which are generally more capable of moving to a more hospitable climate if provided a migration corridor. Plants generally can't move fast enough to escape climate change, and aquatic species are facing extinction projections from 60-90 percent due to climate change.

In fact, freshwater fish in North America were just assessed by the U.S. Geological Survey and the number of "imperiled" species has increased a staggering 92 percent since the last assessment in 1989. The primary causes are habitat loss, dwindling range, and introduction of non-native species; climate change was cited as an additional factor contributing to the decline.

While we face these gigantic challenges, we see the Bush administration using its final days to weaken protections for endangered species. In its proposed regulations, the administration removes critical scientific oversight for federal projects that might impact species listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Historically, independent government scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service have been consulted on federal projects like highway construction and timber sales. The Department of the Interior is now accepting comments on a proposal for sweeping changes to this landmark environmental law. Under the new regulations, federal agencies would no longer have to consult with experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Instead, the agency proposing the project would have the power to
decide how it would affect wildlife.

The agency isn’t accepting email comments, but the Sierra Club is collecting comments submitted online and will compile and deliver them in person this coming Tuesday, October 14, the deadline for comments. We invite you to submit your comments here.

Image credit::Flickr,B52starr, Bog Turtle, Glyptemys muhlenbergi

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