Bleak Future of Species Loss Puts Spotlight on Tight Federal Budget

Demanding more funds to stem the rapid decline in biodiversity, experts showed members of the Senate on Wednesday how conservation investments dovetail with other goals like fighting climate change and Covid-19. 

Leah Gerber founded the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes at Arizona State University where she is a professor. (Image via Courthouse News)

WASHINGTON (CN) — With invasive species on the rise, habitats losing ground and temperatures climbing, global biodiversity is declining faster now than any other time in human history.

An expert panel laid out the battle lines Wednesday, telling the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works that some 25% of the world’s species are threatened with extinction today. 

“We recognize that there are many competing priorities that the federal government is faced with,” said Leah Gerber, a professor at Arizona State University and founding director of the school’s Center for Biodiversity Outcomes. “But it’s important to recognize that when we lose a species, it’s forever. We can’t go back.”

Through her research, Gerber has found that working on threatened species recovery can also save other species from extinction.

“We’re not talking about just extinction, we’re talking about the general decline of nature,” Gerber said. “Ecosystem services provided by biodiversity include nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, pollination and agricultural productivity.”

Biodiversity loss also affects humans: The majority of pandemics and diseases originate in wildlife, and food production needs healthy soil, healthy soil and pest control. The World Economic Forum said that biodiversity loss is among the top-three risks to humanity in terms of impact, next to weapons of mass destruction and climate change. 

To prevent the crisis from growing, Gerber suggested raising federal funding for habitat restoration, climate adaptation, habitat-connectivity programs and wildlife-protection laws. 

Globally, best estimates say we need approximately $76 billion to protect biodiversity, which is less than .01% of the annual GDP.  In the United States, the annual cost for recovering endangered species is $1.2 billion. 

“Funding is key,” said Edmund Sullivan, executive officer of the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Agency. “I understand there’s a lot of pressure on Congress and the administration on how to allocate resources, but I feel that for too long there has been a lack of investment in nature’s infrastructure.” 

Andy Treharne, senior director of executive affairs at the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, told lawmakers that state and private funding do help conservation, but the backbone comes from a public benefits program where the user pays, such as to get licenses, permits, recreational access.

“The reality is the federal government’s investment in conservation and the environment has not kept track with the growth of the federal government,” Treharne said, noting that overall federal spending grew 130% between 1980 and 2010, while funding for the environment and conservation programs grew 2.1%.

Lawmakers still grappling with the Biden administration’s push for $2 trillion meanwhile may have heard something familiar in the testimony.

“There isn’t money to do invasive species management, there isn’t money for restoration programs. Funding those things will help with stemming some of the biodiversity loss,” said Sullivan, the Santa Clara official. “And a lot needs to be done to improve our highway systems for wildlife.” 

Around 2 million vehicles collide with large animals across the United States each year, and land bridges and under crossings to help animals get around highways have had tremendous success. 

A wildlife crossing on Highway 9 in Colorado created a 90% reduction in wildlife vehicle collisions on the highway. Mule deer, elk, turkeys, mountain lions, coyotes, river otters and other animals all used the crossing. 

Last year, a competitive Wildlife Crossing Pilot Program, which would have provided $250 million over five years for wildlife infrastructure projects, was included in a highway bill —  but the bill died without receiving a vote..  

“Though the current state of biodiversity decline paints a bleak picture for the future, there is reason for hope,” said Senator Tom Carper, chair of the committee. “If we take action we can stem biodiversity loss and the harm that comes with it.”

%d bloggers like this: