Ivory-Billed Woodpecker and 22 Other Species Likely Extinct

US Fish and Wildlife Service proposes removing them from Endangered Species Act.

ivory-billed woodpecker
Ivory-billed woodpecker at Cincinnati Museum of Natural History and Science.

James St. John / Flickr / CC by 2.0

The ivory-billed woodpecker and 22 more birds, fish, and other species no longer exist and should be declared extinct, according to a proposal released today from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

The federal agency suggests removing the species from the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Based on "rigorous reviews of the best available science," wildlife officials believe these species are no longer in existence.

"The purpose of the ESA is to protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. For the species proposed for delisting today, the protections of the ESA came too late, with most either extinct, functionally extinct, or in steep decline at the timing of listing," The FWS announced in a statement.

The proposal includes delisting 11 birds, two fish, one plant, a bat, and eight species of mussels. Some of these species have already been declared extinct by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the global comprehensive source of extinction risk for animals, plants, and fungi.

Since the ESA was passed in 1973, 54 species have been delisted because their populations have rebounded and 56 species have been downlisted from endangered to threatened. Currently, there are 1,474 animals on the list.

"Part of what makes this announcement so compelling is that many of the threats that led to these species' decline and extinction are the very same threats that many imperiled species face today. These include habitat loss, overuse, invasive species and disease. The growing impacts of climate change are further exacerbating these threats and their interactions," Brian Hires, a spokesperson for the FWS, tells Treehugger.

"While protections for these 23 species came too late, the ESA has been incredibly successful at preventing the extinction of more than 99% of species listed, and the Service remains committed to working with diverse partners across the country to meeting our conservation challenges."

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, scientists estimate that at least 227 species would have likely gone extinct had it now been for the act.

"The Endangered Species Act has prevented the extinction of 99% of the plants and animals under its care, but sadly these species were extinct or nearly gone when they were listed,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “The tragedy will be magnified if we don’t keep this from happening again by fully funding species protection and recovery efforts that move quickly. Delay equals death for vulnerable wildlife.”

A 2016 study published in Biological Conservation found that species waited a median of 12 years before they received safeguards. The center points out that several of the species in this current announcement went extinct during a delay in their listing process, including the Guam broadbill, little Mariana fruit bat, and the southern acornshell, stirrupshell, and upland combshell mussels. The center says at least 47 species have gone extinct waiting for protection.

Species That Are Likely Extinct

The ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) was listed as endangered in 1967 under the Endangered Species Preservation Act (ESPA), the precursor to the ESA. The large bird was noted for its striking black and white feathers. The last commonly agreed upon sighting was in April 1944 in the Tensa River region of northeast Louisiana. Threatened by habitat loss and hunting, the woodpecker is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN.

Other birds include the Bachman's warbler which was last seen in the U.S. in 1962 and in Cuba in 1981. The warbler is classified as critically endangered by the IUCN.

Eight birds in Hawaii and the bridled white-eye bird in Guam have also been proposed for delisting. The little Mariana fruit bat (Pteropus tokudae), known as the Guam flying fox, is the one bat on the roster. The species has already been declared extinct by the IUCN. Hawaii is home to Phyllostegia glabra var. lanaiensis, the sole plant.

"Species endemic to islands face a heightened risk of extinction due to their isolation and small geographic ranges," according to the FWS. "Hawaiʻi and the Pacific Islands are home to more than 650 species of plants and animals listed under the ESA. This is more than any other state, and most of these species are found nowhere else in the world."

Eight species of freshwater mussels from the Southeast U.S. are likely extinct. The FWS says because freshwater mussels rely on streams and rivers with clean, reliable water, they are some of the most imperiled species in the U.S.

The two fish species are the San Marcos gambusia from Texas and the Scioto madtom from Ohio. The gambusia (Gambusia georgei) hasn't been found in the wild since 1983. Extinction causes include habitat changes due to reduced spring flows, pollution, and hybridization with other species. It's listed as extinct by the IUCN.

Also categorized as extinct by the IUCN, the Scioto madtom had its last confirmed sighting in 1957. The elusive fish was found only in a small section of the Big Darby Creek, a tributary of Ohio's Scioto River. Only 18 were ever collected; researchers believe its decline could be due to habitat modification, as well as industrial discharge into waterways and agriculture runoff.

There's a 60-day public comment period where scientists, researchers, and members of the public can weigh in on the proposal. The deadline for comments is Dec. 29.

View Article Sources
  1. "U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes Delisting 23 Species fro Endangered Species Act Due to Extinction." U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 2021.

  2. "The Endangered Species Act: A Wild Success." Center for Biological Diversity.

  3. "23 Species From 19 States Lost to Extinction." Center for Biological Diversity, 2021.

  4. Puckett, Emily E. et al. "Taxa, Petitioning Agency, And Lawsuits Affect Time Spent Awaiting Listing Under The US Endangered Species Act." Biological Conservation, 2021.

  5. "Ivory-Billed Woodpecker." The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 2020, doi:10.2305/iucn.uk.2020-3.rlts.t22681425a182588014.en

  6. "Bachman's Warbler." The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 2020, doi:10.2305/iucn.uk.2020-3.rlts.t22721607a180043024.en

  7. Bonaccorso, F.J., et al. "Guam Flying Fox." IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 2019. IUCN, doi:10.2305/iucn.uk.2020-3.rlts.t18763a22088402

  8. "Gambusia Georgei." The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 2012, doi:10.2305/iucn.uk.2013-1.rlts.t8891a18233501.en

  9. "Scioto Madtom." The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 2012, doi:10.2305/iucn.uk.2013-1.rlts.t14908a19032932.en