Conservationists Demand Half-Billion for Endangered Species

Twin red pandas huddle with each other at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, N.Y. Belonging to an endangered species found in Asia, the male cubs were born on June 21, 2018, to mother Tabei and father Ketu. The cubs, Loofah and Doofah, are named after characters from the animated dinosaur film series “The Land Before Time.” (Photo courtesy of Rosamond Gifford Zoo)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Lambasting government backlogs and shoestring protection budgets, more than 215 organizations submitted a letter Tuesday asking Congress to support endangered-species conservation with a budget of $486 million.

Addressed to the heads of the Committee on Appropriations at the U.S. House of Representatives, Tuesday’s letter begins with a reference to the recent extinction of a species of Hawaiian tree snail.

Just last month, George, the last known member of this snails species, died without a mate after 14 years in captivity. 

“The passing of George and the larger risk of mass extinction is a wake-up call to society and Congress that more must be done,” the letter states. “Conserving our planet’s natural heritage is a monumental challenge, but we can do more, and we know what to do for our most imperiled wildlife and plants.”

In a feature about George for National Geographic, David Sischo with the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources is quoted as saying that threats from climate change and invasive predators has put the state’s other species of snails on the same trajectory, all fated to go extinct within months or years.

Jacob Malcom, director of the Center for Conservation Innovation at Defenders of Wildlife, noted in a phone interview that the congressional funding is the key to ensuring that no other species meet George’s fate.

“We made the decision 40 some years ago to protect species and protect them from going extinct,” Malcom said. “Congress hasn’t provided the resources that are needed to make that happen to fulfill that vision. Until they provide this funding to pass this level of appropriation they’re going to continue to face a uphill battle to recover.”

According to annual reports from the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, hundreds of endangered species receive less than $1,000 annually from Congress — some receive none at all. A minimum of $50,000 per year per species, the groups say, would give each a better chance at recovery.

These groups are also requesting additional funding for the processing of species submitted for endangered protections, most of which are unable to be receive their classification within the one-year timeframe permitted by the Endangered Species Act. 

While the Endangered Species Act is highly effective — credited with saving more than 99 percent of listed species and giving hundreds more a better chance at survival — close to 50 unlisted species have gone extinct while waiting for protections due to funding shortfalls. 

“At current funding rates, it will take the Fish and Wildlife Service at least 10 years to process all of the remaining species that the agency has identified as potentially needing protection under the Act,”  the letter states.

Environmentalists propose that Congress triple the program budget going forward to $51 million by 2020. This would allow Fish and Wildlife to process the entire listing backlog in less than four years and ensure species receive the detailed scientific analyses they need to determine if they need to be protected by the Act, the groups state. 

The groups also request funding be provided for states to finance the private lands that provide homes for at least half of all listed species spend a portion of their life cycle on. 

Malcom in an interview that funding for private lands has decreased by 57 percent.

Another group that signed on to Tuesday’s petition is the Center for Biological Diversity.

“The Endangered Species Act has been starved for decades, and incredible animals and plants have been pushed toward extinction because of that,” Stephanie Kurose, an endangered species policy specialist at the center, said in a statement. “Enough is enough. Congress should fully fund the act so that not one more species is lost forever.”

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