This Endangered Species Day, Let's Reconnect with Our Natural World

A family of gray wolves tends to their pups. After 45 years, gray wolves were delisted from the Endangered Species Act by the Trump administration on January 4, 2021. (Photo: Chad Horwedel/Flickr/cc)

This Endangered Species Day, Let's Reconnect with Our Natural World

With our very existence at stake, biodiversity loss must be a national priority on the same level as climate change.

Over the past weeks, I've become more hopeful about being able to see the friends and family I have deeply missed during the pandemic. This pandemic proved, more than ever, that humans need connection with one another for our mental health and wellbeing. But our need for deep, meaningful relationships extends beyond human-to-human interactions and spans to our natural world.

Today is Endangered Species Day, and I'm holding the feeling of "species loneliness"--the reality that humans are rapidly losing our connections to other species, and the deep-seated loneliness that results from that loss.

We must recognize that our fate is intimately tied to that of healthy lands, waters and biodiversity, and take action to protect nature and species that we coexist with and depend upon.

There is no question that when we feel more connected to the Earth and other species in the natural world, we are more likely to be better stewards for them. But as the world loses more land and wildlife habitat to extractive industries--a football field worth every 30 seconds in the United States--our isolation from nature and other species deepens. That is only amplified by stark inequities that exist when it comes to getting outdoors. Today, more than 100 million people across the United States don't have a park within a 10-minute walk of home, and that's especially true for those of us living in low-income communities and those of us who do not identify as white.

We must recognize that our fate is intimately tied to that of healthy lands, waters and biodiversity, and take action to protect nature and species that we coexist with and depend upon. The world's wildlife populations have declined by two-thirds in the last 50 years alone, and scientists report that over one million species are now at risk of extinction. As a society, our loss of connection with the natural world is contributing to the human-caused mass extinction and public health crises we are and will continue to face.

The stakes have never been higher. This year alone, we have been fighting an unprecedented amount of anti-wildlife bills in state legislatures. In Idaho, the Governor just passed legislation that could result in the killing of 90% of the state's gray wolves. In Montana, several bills passed that would allow the state to permit individual hunters to kill an unlimited number of wolves, to bait, snare and "spotlight" them at night-- threatening over 30 years of one of the most successful wildlife recovery efforts in this country. Other newly-passed laws target grizzly bears, mountain lions, elk and other species. And even more state governments are engaged in relentless efforts to strip much-needed protections from lands, waters and wildlife.

Together, these anti-wildlife and anti-environment laws could drive species back into extinction. But we can combat these attacks on nature by robustly and urgently implementing a national biodiversity strategy.

With our very existence at stake, biodiversity loss must be a national priority on the same level as climate change. A national biodiversity strategy can help us reverse the trend of species loss by initiating a whole-of- government approach to saving habitat, fully funding and implementing the Endangered Species Act, and slowing extinction. Saving biodiversity also means ensuring more communities have clean air, clean water, and a sustainable, healthy climate.

And we need a national biodiversity strategy that would center our friends and neighbors who have historically been shut out of wildlife management decisions, especially Tribal Nations. Today, Indigenous people across the world care for 80% of its biodiversity. In the United States, Tribal Nations have led the effort to save grizzly bears, wolves, salmon and many other critical species from extinction. Prioritizing Tribal management and sovereignty will be key in the work to slow extinction and helping nature thrive.

Fortunately, Secretary of the Interior Haaland deeply understands the importance of Tribal rights and sovereignty, and is championing efforts to make conservation and protection of biodiversity a priority. The administration's 'America the Beautiful' plan will help us protect 30% of lands and waters by 2030, which scientists say is absolutely key to slowing extinction.

We have stopped the extinction of species before. Tribal Nations have worked tirelessly to save the earth's biodiversity for centuries. We can learn from Indigenous-led management, protect more lands and waters, and implement a national biodiversity strategy to give nature the protection and care that it so desperately needs. In doing so, we can reignite our own connection to the natural world-- finding with it the peace, solace, and health that a deep connection to Earth brings.

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