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ivory-billed woodpecker specimen

An ivory-billed woodpecker specimen. (Photo: Darren and Brad/CC BY-NC 2.0)

Over 20 Newly Extinct Species in US Offer ‘Sobering Reminder' of Humanity's Wreckage

"Extinction is not inevitable. It is a political choice."

Andrea Germanos

Twenty-three species should be declared extinct, U.S. officials said Wednesday—a fate that conservation advocates warn could await hundreds of other species barring immediate efforts to protect them.

"If we do nothing to address climate change and the growing biodiversity crisis," tweeted the National Audubon Society, "today's announcement will pale in comparison to the future we face."

Among those that should be considered gone forever, according to the proposal from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, are the ivory-billed woodpecker—a casualty of logging; the San Marcos gambusia—a small fish powerless in the face of water depletion; and Phyllostegia glabra var. lanaiensis—a flowering plant in the mint family whose existence proved no match for habitat degradation and invasive species.

"Each of these 23 species represents a permanent loss to our nation's natural heritage and to global biodiversity," Bridget Fahey, who oversees species classification for the Fish and Wildlife Service, told the New York Times. "And it's a sobering reminder that extinction is a consequence of human-caused environmental change."

Though the specific factors driving the disappearances varied, "in each case," the Associated Press reported, "humans were the ultimate cause."

In addition, AP added,

All 23 were thought to have at least a slim chance of survival when added to the endangered species list beginning in the 1960s. Only 11 species previously have been removed due to extinction in the almost half-century since the Endangered Species Act was signed into law.

“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," she continued, "if we don't keep this from happening again by fully funding species protection and recovery efforts that move quickly." Curry's organization pointed to a 2016 study finding an average delay of 12 years for species awaiting ESA safeguards.

"Delay equals death for vulnerable wildlife," she said.

The species FWS proposed for the delisting from the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants because of extinction also include the Bachman's warbler and eight Hawaiian birds including Kauai Akialoa. Also on the list: the Little Mariana fruit bat previously found on Guam; Scioto madtom, a catfish that used to call the Big Darby Creek in Ohio home; and eight freshwater mussels including the flat pigtoe.

According to Curry, "a lack of urgency" is putting hundreds of additional species at risk for total loss.

"The Endangered Species Act is the most powerful tool we have to end extinction, but the sad reality is that listing still comes too late for most species," said Curry, urging reform of the FWS process for protecting species.

"Extinction is not inevitable. It is a political choice," she said. "As a country, we need to stand up and say we aren’t going to lose any more species to extinction."

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