Here’s what contributed to the extinction of ivory-billed woodpecker, 22 other species

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed moving 23 animals and plants off the endangered species list, declaring them extinct. Perhaps the most well-known of the species deemed gone forever is the ivory-billed woodpecker. These extinctions are part of an accelerating crisis driven by human actions. John Yang and Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, discuss.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed moving 23 animals and plants off the endangered species list because they're now extinct.

    John Yang has more now on what experts are calling an accelerating crisis.

  • John Yang:

    Amna, perhaps the most best known of the species now deemed to be gone forever is the ivory-billed woodpecker.

    For decades, it had been thought to be already extinct and was chased throughout the American South by bird watchers and hunters. Other species on the list, he Bachman's warbler songbird and a group of birds and bats found only in the Pacific Islands. The list also includes some fish and freshwater mussels.

    Tierra Curry is a senior scientist at the Center For Biological

    Diversity, a nonprofit group that works to protect endangered species.

    Tierra, thanks so much for being with us.

    Before this, 11 species had been on the endangered list, have been declared to be extinct. And now, today, 23, they're proposing to add to that list.

    What has driven the extinction of these 23 species?

  • Tierra Curry, Center For Biological Diversity:

    So this is the single largest batch of species that are being proposed for delisting due to extinction in history.

    And you can kind of look at them in groups. The freshwater mussels, a lot of them went extinct because of the construction of dams across the Eastern U.S. that started all the way back in 1914. But mussels have really long lifespan. Some of them can live to be 100. So the dams began the extinction process. And then, when their habitat shrank, pollution and other things affected the mussels.

    For the Hawaii species — we lost eight birds in Hawaii — the real story there is invasive species, either goats or pigs that ate the vegetation that they needed or invasive species that preyed on them directly, like rats and mongooses and feral cats.

    And then climate change came into play because it brought diseases that are mosquito-borne into habitats where they hadn't been before. And that was kind of their downfall.

    John Yang What are the implications of species going extinct like this?

  • Tierra Curry:

    Well, it means we have made a mistake that can never be corrected. We have lost beings that we share the planet with that are gone forever.

    And it means that the ecosystems where they lived are never going to be the same again. Like, freshwater mussels filter water. They provide food for other animals. They stabilize the riverbanks. They do so many ecosystem services for us. And now we have diminished that capacity because we have lost them.

  • John Yang:

    Are there natural forces that lead to extinction? I mean, you talked about sort of the manmade effects that have led to the extinction of these 23.

    But are there natural forces as well?

  • Tierra Curry:

    There are.

    And the difference with what's happening now is, the natural background rate has been accelerated by 100 to 1,000 times. So, for freshwater species, they're going extinct 1,000 times more rapidly than they would in the natural rate because of changes we have made to the environment.

  • John Yang:

    There's a U.N. study that says a million species are at risk of becoming — or at risk in the coming years.

    What can be done to reverse that or what can be done to protect those species?

  • Tierra Curry:

    Everything.

    A lot of people hear that a million species are at risk of extinction, and they feel hopeless. But we can save a million species and change the tagline to, we saved a million species from extinction.

    A lot of it comes down to funding. Their habitat needs to be protected. They need monitoring. We need to address things like water pollution and invasive species and direct exploitation of wildlife. But we can't do all of these things. Like, we don't have to lose any more species to extinction if we act to save them.

  • John Yang:

    Since the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973, I believe that 54 species have been removed from that list because their populations have recovered, and 48 others have been moved from endangered to threatened.

    Is the Endangered Species Act working?

  • Tierra Curry:

    It's absolutely working.

    The Endangered Species Act has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the plants and animals on the list. And it's amazing, given that it's never gotten the funding that it needs to fully recover species. So, yes, the law works, and it needs more funding.

  • John Yang:

    You also talked about — in the causes, you listed climate change as one of them. How big a factor is that?

  • Tierra Curry:

    It's an enormous factor.

    Climate change threatens life on Earth as we know it. It threatens wildlife and humans. And so other factors also drive extinction, habitat loss, invasive species, pollution, overexploitation. But now climate change is overarching all of those.

  • John Yang:

    Tierra Curry of the Center For Biological Diversity, Thank you very much.

  • Tierra Curry:

    Thank you.

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