A new study exposes serious gaps in the U.S. government's commitment to fighting the effects of the climate crisis on endangered species, which federal agencies are required by law to protect.
"While climate change is a pressing threat to imperiled species, agencies that manage federally protected species have not given enough attention to this threat," said Aimee Delach, study co-author and a researcher at Defenders of Wildlife.
Researchers at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and Defenders of Wildlife examined the sensitivities of the country's 459 endangered species to a number of global changes brought about by the climate crisis, and found all but one of them—the Hawaiian goose—have traits that make it challenging for them to adapt to those effects.
"The biggest roadblock is likely the repeated denial of the latest science by the current administration, members of Congress, and those who stand to gain from the continued use of damaging fossil fuels. Since 2016, agencies have given scant attention to the climate crisis more broadly."
—Astrid Caldas, Union of Concerned Scientists
While the authors of the study, which was published in Nature Climate Change on Monday, found that 99.8 percent of the country's endangered species are threatened by the climate crisis, government agencies consider the rapidly changing climate to be a risk for only 64 percent of them. Just 18 percent of the species are currently protected under specific plans, but the federal government is bound to protect all of them under the Endangered Species Act.
"The current administration produced only one species' document in 2017-18 that included management actions to address climate impacts," said Delach.
Dr. Gretchen Goldman, a research director at UCS, tweeted that the report identified "a big gap in our endangered species protections."
This is a big gap in our endangered species protections. The Endangered Species Act mandates species listings are based on science, but their management isn't accounting for climate change. We need to better protect species from a warming world. https://t.co/XO7asac17A
— Gretchen Goldman, PhD (@GretchenTG) November 18, 2019
Astrid Caldas, a climate scientist at UCS who co-authored the report, suggested that the Trump administration has in less than three years greatly reduced the government's efforts to protect endangered species from melting ice, habitat destruction, and other climate changes.
"While underfunding and the lack of tools to plan and implement needed actions could be partially to blame for the lack of action, the biggest roadblock is likely the repeated denial of the latest science by the current administration, members of Congress, and those who stand to gain from the continued use of damaging fossil fuels," Caldas said in a statement. "Since 2016, agencies have given scant attention to the climate crisis more broadly."
The report comes days after documents revealed that President Donald Trump's Interior Secretary, David Bernhardt, is gutting endangered species protections to help the same companies Bernhardt was a lobbyist for before entering government.
Nearly three-quarters of the species were shown to be sensitive to three or more factors of the changing climate, increasing the danger of extinction.
A number of amphibians, mollusks, and arthropods were the most sensitive to climate changes, including the Sonoran tiger salamander and the Florida leafwing butterfly.
"We still have time to safeguard many of the endangered species we treasure, but the window to act is narrowing," Caldas said.