The magnificent ivory-billed woodpecker, and 22 other birds, fish, and other species, are extinct, says the United States government.
It’s unusual for wildlife officials to give up hope on a plant or animal. But government experts claim they’ve tried everything to discover these 23 species. They also warn that, in addition to other stresses, climate change could make such disappearances more widespread; as a warmer globe exacerbates the hazards faced by endangered plants and wildlife.
The ivory-billed woodpecker was possibly the most popular out of all the 23 species extinct by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The woodpecker left with a bang, making unsubstantiated appearances in recent decades. It sparked a flurry of ultimately unsuccessful searches in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida marshes.
Others, such as the flat pigtoe, a freshwater mussel found in the southeastern United States, were only spotted a few times in the wild before disappearing. Thereby, implying that by the time they had a name, they were already extinct.
“When I see one of those really rare ones, it’s always in the back of my mind that I might be the last one to see this animal again,”
said Anthony “Andy” Ford, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist in Tennessee who specializes in freshwater mussels.
Too much development, water pollution, logging, competition from invading species, birds slaughtered for their feathers, and animals seized by private collectors are some of the reasons for the disappearances. Humans were the ultimate cause in each case.
“Little is gained and much is lost”
Another thing they have in common is that when they were first put on the endangered species list in the 1960s, all 23 had a small chance of surviving. In the near half-century since the Endangered Species Act law came in, only 11 species are out due to extinction.
The announcement begins a 60-day public feedback period before the modifications to the species’ status become final. In response to the extinction, wildlife officials said that they will resume criminal enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It is to hold firms accountable for unnecessary bird fatalities. President Donald Trump halted prosecutions for several years.
A total of 902 species are extinct around the world. Because some are never formally identified, the true number is considered to be far higher. Many experts warn that the globe is in an “extinction crisis”; with flora and wildlife dying at 1,000 times the historical pace.
Several scientists believe that one or more of the ivory-billed woodpecker and 22 other species extinct announced on Wednesday could reemerge.
They used millions of dollars on searches and habitat preservation initiatives. But a key figure in the ivory-billed woodpecker hunt claimed it was premature to call the hunt off.
“Little is gained and much is lost” with an extinction declaration, said Cornell University bird biologist John Fitzpatrick, lead author of a 2005 study. The study claimed the woodpecker had been rediscovered in eastern Arkansas.
“A bird this iconic, and this representative of the major old-growth forests of the southeast, keeping it on the list of endangered species keeps attention on it, keeps states thinking about managing habitat on the off chance it still exists,” he said.
Ivory-billed woodpecker and 22 other species extinct declarations
According to Craig Hilton-Taylor of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a Switzerland-based organization that tracks extinctions worldwide, the ivory-billed woodpecker isn’t in the extinction column. As it’s conceivable the birds still exist in Cuba.
If extinction is announced prematurely, according to Hilton-Taylor, there may be unanticipated but harmful repercussions. “Suddenly the (conservation) money is no longer there, and then suddenly you do drive it to extinction because you stop investing in it,” he said.
However, according to a report issued on Wednesday, there have been no confirmed sightings of the woodpecker since 1944. “No objective evidence” of its continued existence.
The 23 extinction declarations, they added, drive a desire to remove a backlog of proposed status modifications for species that had been ignored for years. They said that it would free up funds for on-the-ground conservation activities for species with a possibility of survival.
When those efforts fail, we lost the organisms that frequently uniquely adapt to their habitats. Freshwater mussel species, such as the ones the government claims have gone extinct, reproduce by enticing fish with a lure-like attachment. Then releasing a cloud of larvae that attach to fish gills until they are large enough to drop off and live on their own.
Freshwater mussels have a one-in-a-million chance of surviving to adulthood, according to Ford of the Wildlife Service. But those that do can live a century or longer.
“I hope we’re up to the challenge,
With eight woodland birds and one plant, Hawaii has the most species on the list. This is partly due to the abundance of plants and animals on the islands. Many of which have fairly limited ranges and can blink out quickly.
The little po’ouli, a kind of honeycreeper found in 1973, was the latest to become extinct.
Only three remained by the late 1990s: a male and two females. They seized the male for possible breeding after failing to mate with them in the wild. He died in 2004. The two females vanished without a trace.
The plight of Hawaii’s birds prompted Stuart Pimm, an extinction researcher at Duke University, to pursue his career. Despite the tragic nature of the government’s intention to add more species to the extinct list, Pimm believes the death toll would have been considerably worse if the Endangered Species Act had not been in place.
“It’s a shame we didn’t get to those species in time. But when we do, we are usually able to save species,” he said.
Since 1975, 54 species, including the bald eagle, brown pelican, and most humpback whales, are off the endangered list after recovering.
Drought, floods, wildfires, and temperature changes are all exacerbated by climate change, making it more difficult for species to recover.
Different ways are useful to save them. Individual species, much alone individual birds, are no longer the emphasis. Officials say the main priority now is to protect their habitat, which benefits a wide range of animals.
“I hope we’re up to the challenge,” said biologist Michelle Bogardus with the wildlife service in Hawaii. “We don’t have the resources to prevent extinctions unilaterally. We have to think proactively about ecosystem health and how do we maintain it, given all these threats.”