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US proposes experimental populations of endangered species outside historic habitat

The proposed rule change will remove a requirement that experimental populations must be reintroduced in a listed species' historic range.

(CN) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Monday it wants to introduce experimental populations of endangered or threatened species outside these species' historical habitats where climate change and invasive species have made those habitats unsuitable.

In what the agency said was the first Endangered Species Act interpretive rule produced under the Biden-Harris administration, the proposed change will remove the requirement that experimental populations of listed species are to be reintroduced in their historic range.

“Climate change and the rapid spread of invasive species pose an ever-increasing threat to native biodiversity. The time to act — and use every tool at our disposal — is now,” Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a statement. “The growing extinction crisis highlights the importance of the Endangered Species Act and efforts to conserve species before declines become irreversible."

Experimental populations have been used to help advance the recovery of numerous listed species, according to Fish and Wildlife, including  California condors, whooping cranes and Sonoran pronghorns. The agency said it's considering introducing the Guam kingfisher outside its historical range because the species currently cannot be reintroduced to its former habitat on Guam given the presence of brown tree snakes.  

Under today’s proposed revisions, the Service would be able to introduce an experimental population of an ESA threatened or endangered species into suitable habitat outside of its current range and probable historical range. 

Several species and ecosystems are losing habitat due to increased temperatures, altered rain and snow patterns, sea level rise, and greater frequency and intensity of drought and wildfires, according to the Service. These species include the Mt. Rainier ptarmigan in Washington state, Montana stoneflies and the emperor penguin, found in the Antarctic.

Climate change has also exacerbated existing threats to plants and wildlife, the Service said, such as greater threats from disease and invasive species. In Hawaii, increased temperatures has been driving the spread of avian malaria among some of the world’s most endangered birds, according to the Service, as mosquitoes move upslope.

“It is encouraging to see efforts to strengthen the Endangered Species Act and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stepping up to support imperiled species in the face of growing pressure from climate change and development," Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement. "We thank the Biden administration for their leadership to advance protection of our nation’s incredible wildlife."

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