Wednesday, October 27, 2021

US declares ivory-billed woodpecker, 22 other species extinct

by Matthew Brown | The Associated Press

Billings, Mont. – The spectacular ivory-billed woodpecker and death knell for 22 more birds, fish and other species for the last time: The US government declared them extinct on Wednesday.

It is a rare move for wildlife officials to give up hope on a plant or animal, but government scientists say they are tired of finding 23 of these. And they warn that climate change, on top of other pressures, could make such disappearances more common. The warming planet adds to the threats facing endangered plants and wildlife.

The ivory-billed woodpecker was perhaps the best-known species declared extinct by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The woodpecker went out stubbornly and fanfare, making an unconfirmed appearance in recent decades that ignited a frenzy of eventually fruitless searches in the swamps of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida.

Others such as the flat pigato, a freshwater mussel in the southeastern US, were only identified a few times in the wild and never seen again, meaning that by the time they got a name, they were extinct from existence. .

Anthony “Andy” Ford, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist in Tennessee, said, “When I see one of those rare ones, it’s always on my mind that I might be the last person to see this animal again.” I can.” Specializes in freshwater mussels.

The factors behind the disappearances varied – too much development, water pollution, logging, competition from invasive species, birds killed for feathers and animals captured by private collectors. In each case, humans were the ultimate cause.

Another thing they share: All 23 had the least chance of survival when they were added to the endangered species list that began in the 1960s. In the nearly half century since the Endangered Species Act was signed into law, only 11 species have previously been decimated to extinction.

The announcement ends a three-month comment period before the species status change is final.

Worldwide, about 902 species have been documented as extinct. The actual number is thought to be much higher as some are never formally identified, and many scientists warn that the Earth is in an “extinction crisis” and that flora and fauna are now disappearing at 1,000 times the historical rate. are.

It is possible that one or more of the 23 species named Wednesday may reappear, several scientists said.

A key figure in the search for the ivory-billed woodpecker said that after spending millions of dollars on exploration and habitat conservation efforts, it was premature to call off the effort.

With the declaration of extinction “little is gained and much is lost”, said Cornell University bird biologist John Fitzpatrick, lead author of a 2005 study that claimed the woodpecker was rediscovered in eastern Arkansas. .

“A bird it’s coveted, and this representative of the Southeast’s major old-growth forests, keeping it on the endangered species list while it’s on the list, keeps states thinking about managing the habitat on the off chance ,” They said .

The group’s Craig Hilton-Taylor said the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a Switzerland-based group that monitors extinctions globally, is not putting the ivory-billed woodpecker in its extinction column, Because it is possible that the birds are still present in Cuba.

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Hilton-Taylor said there could be unintended but harmful consequences if a premature extinction is declared. “All of a sudden (preservation) money is no longer there, and then all of a sudden you drive it to extinction because you stop investing in it,” he said.

But wildlife officials said in an analysis released Wednesday that there have been no definitive sightings of the woodpecker since 1944 and “no objective evidence” of its continued existence.

He said the 23 extinction declarations were driven by a desire to clear a backlog of recommended status changes for species that had not been acted upon for years. He said it would free up resources for conservation efforts on the ground for species that still have a chance to recover.

What is lost when those efforts fail are organisms often uniquely adapted to their environment. Freshwater mussel species such as the one that the government says are extinct, reproduce by attracting fish with a lure appendage, then sending up a cloud of larvae that attach to the fish’s gills until they leave and begin their own journey. are not enough to live on their own. .

According to Ford of the Wildlife Service, the odds are slim against any freshwater mussels surviving into adulthood — a one in a million chance — but those that do can live for a century or more.

Hawaii has the most species on its list – eight woodland birds and one plant. This is partly because there are so many plants and animals in the islands that many have very small ranges and can blink quickly.

The most recent to go extinct was the tiny pouli, a type of bird known as the honeycreeper, in 1973.

By the late 1990s only three remained – one male and two female. After failing to mate in the wild, the male was captured for potential breeding and died in 2004. The two females were never seen again.

The fate of Hawaii’s birds helped push Duke University extinction expert Stuart Pym into his field. Despite the dire nature of the government’s proposal to move more species into the extinct column, Pimm said the toll would probably be much higher without the Endangered Species Act.

“It’s a shame that we didn’t reach those species in time, but when we do, we’re usually able to save the species,” he said.

Nation World News Desk
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