Anthropogenic climate change is the greatest threat facing not just humanity, but all the animals with which we share this magnificent planet. Scientists have warned for years of the damage humans cause to the planet and its inhabitants. But legislation to change this behavior is slow-going, and many people have chosen to believe it’s not even an issue worth addressing. The extinction rate of species is staggering. We are in the middle of a sixth mass extinction scientists have dubbed the Anthropocene Extinction because it is undoubtedly caused by humans and their activities. On top of this, the Endangered Species Act is under attack by the current administration, which seeks to weaken it considerably.
Here are just ten of the thousands of species facing extinction if more is not done to protect them from climate change.
Source: AB Photographie/Shutterstock
Wolverines are the spirit of the high alpine country. They roam tirelessly above and below the tree line, climbing near-vertical mountains as if they were flat. Wolverines rely on deep alpine snowpack for denning when they have kits. They build extensive, multi-chambered snow caves beneath whitebark pines. But as the earth warms, snowpack grows thinner. Alpine areas are warming three times faster than lower elevation areas. Wolverines used to roam as far south as New Mexico and as far east as New York State. now, due to climate change, overtrapping, and government-run so-called “predator control” programs, less than 300 remain in the lower 48.
Conservationists have been trying to get the wolverine listed on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) since 1994. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) has repeatedly ruled that they will not protect them, and each time federal judges have subsequently ruled that the USFWS must examine the science again, as wolverines clearly need protection. As recently as March 2020, a federal judge ruled that USFWS had to make a decision on whether or not to list by August 31, 2020. The results were made public in October: once again, the USFWS refuses to list.
Click here for a petition to Aurelia Skipwith, the director of USFWS, urging her to protect wolverines.
You can also support organizations such as Earthjustice, Conservation Northwest, and the Center for Biological Diversity, which have sued USFWS on behalf of the wolverine. If you want to take an active part in wolverine conservation, Conservation Northwest and the Cascades Wolverine Project have citizen science programs to track wolverines in the winter to learn more about their population.
2) American Pika
Source: Tom Reichner/Shutterstock
These small relatives of the rabbit live in high elevation rockslides. They are heat intolerant and can perish when exposed to temperatures above 70°F. They don’t hibernate, but instead collect grasses and forbs throughout the summer to eat during the winter. But this activity requires much time in the heat of the day. As the earth warms, they move higher up mountainsides where it’s cooler. When they are forced to the top and there is nowhere higher to go, populations die out.
In winter, pikas rely on thick snowpack to insulate them. But with reduced yearly snowpack, they cannot stay warm during the long, cold winters. Populations are dying off all over the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Great Basin. However, they are currently not listed in any category under the Endangered Species Act.
As with the wolverine, conservation organizations and researchers have tried to get the American pika listed under the ESA and the California Endangered Species Act for years, to no avail.
A petition to list the pika is available here.
3) Whitebark Pine
The seeds of this tree are an important food source for many species including struggling grizzly bear populations. Whitebark pines are also the tree of choice for wolverines to den beneath. As the earth warms, an invasive fungus from Asia has become more virulent and is killing off these pines in the lower 48. Mountain pine beetles are no longer kept in check by cold as mild winters become the norm. These beetle population explosions have devastated vast acreages of trees. Whitebark pines take 50-60 years to mature and up to 300 years to make seeds. But because their habitat is warming, faster growing trees are moving upslope into their territory and outcompeting them by shading out whitebark pine seedlings.
In 2008, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) sued USFWS to protect the whitebark pine. In 2013, the USFWS determined that while the whitebark pine warranted protection, USFWS would not offer said protections because of the need to list other species instead. They decided to revisit the pine decision at a later date. So far no protections have been extended to the species.
If you would like to make your thoughts known to the USFWS on the importance of protecting the whitebark pine, you can submit your comments here or call 1‑800‑344‑WILD.
4) Polar Bear
Source: Vaclav Sebek/Shutterstock
Polar bears rely on sea ice as platforms from which to hunt seals. Seals are the main staple of their diet. This fat allows them to fast during ice-free summer periods when they must move to land. But with sea ice at record low levels, polar bears are forced onto shore for far longer stints than normal, and must rely on vastly less nutritious food sources on land. Bears starve for longer each year. Many cubs perish because their mothers can no longer nurse them. Though these bears are listed under the Endangered Species Act, there is an exemption for the oil and gas industries. Since climate change is the biggest threat to polar bears, this listing offers little help.
In addition, the Trump administration seeks to weaken important legislation that protects the environment and wildlife, such as National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the ESA, and plans to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling.
You can add your name to a petition to stop these dangerous environmental rollbacks here.
5) North Atlantic Right Whale
Warming oceans cause ill health and low reproductive rates in North Atlantic Right Whales. The population of their main food source, small crustaceans called copepods, decreases in warmer waters. This forces the whales to shift to different areas in order to find food. This places them in the dangerous path of more shipping lanes and entangling fishing gear. Though they are listed under the Endangered Species Act, only about 400 of these whales remain. Birth rates continue to decline. Currently, deaths outnumber births. Because little is being done to improve the situation with climate change, this will only get worse.
In addition, in April 2020, a federal judge found that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) was violating the ESA by not protecting right whales from lobster gear entanglement. In August 2020, a federal judge ordered the NMFS to issue a new rule to protect the whales from this entanglement by May 2021.
A petition to help right whales by restricting shipping traffic and fishing activities in their habitat can be found here.
6) Leatherback Sea Turtle
Source: Stephanie Rousseau/Shutterstock
The largest sea turtles in the world, these magnificent creatures can reach seven feet in length and weigh up to 2,000 pounds. Rising sea levels have reduced the beach areas where these turtles can lay their eggs. This makes it far easier for humans to harvest the eggs, a factor that has greatly limited their population. Other dangers include fishing, ship strikes, and plastic pollution. Critical habitat has been set aside by the National Marine Fisheries Service on the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington. Though they are federally listed as endangered, more must be done to address the climate change angle.
In January 2020, The Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network filed a petition for endangered status for these turtles under the California Endangered Species Act. In August 2020, California Department of Fish and Wildlife began a one-year review process to decide if the state will extend protections to the leatherback sea turtle.
Gaining protection under California’s act would add vital protections in the event that the federal Endangered Species Act is further weakened. It would also protect the species from threats such as the Trump administration’s push to allow longline fishing off the coast of California.
If you would like to make your thoughts known to California Fish and Wildlife on the importance of protecting leatherback turtles, you can submit your comments to director Charlton H. Bonham here or call him at (916) 445-0411.
7) Giant Sequoia
Source: Fernando Tatay/Shutterstock
These magnificent trees, which can grow to be as old as 3000 years, are suffering from climate change. Unusually warm temperatures and reduced precipitation have stressed these populations. The larva of bark beetles are normally killed off during long, cold winters. But as winters grow milder, the population of these beetles increases, decimating forests. Because sequoias take 500 years to mature, the beetles could permanently undermine the sequoia population. Worsening periods of drought make the sequoia vulnerable to more intense and longer fire seasons. We see this now in the western U.S. Though some groves of these magnificent trees are protected, the species itself has no protection under the Endangered Species Act.
If you would like to make your thoughts known to the USFWS on the importance of protecting the sequoia, you can submit your comments here or call 1‑800‑344‑WILD.
8) Greater Sage-Grouse
Source: Tom Reichner/Shutterstock
The habitats of many bird species, including this gorgeous bird that lives in western North America, will become inhospitable for them if anthropogenic climate change is not addressed. The greater sage-grouse could lose a staggering 96% of its habitat in the next few decades if we maintain business-as-usual practices and temperatures warm by just 3°C. As longer and more intense fire seasons incinerate habitat repeatedly, they prevent areas from recovering. Heatwaves arriving earlier and earlier each spring endanger young birds still in their nests. These same factors impact hundreds of bird species.
You can use this easy form from the Audubon Society to urge your representatives to support climate solutions.
9) American Burrowing Beetle
We are in the midst of an insect apocalypse. Bumblebee populations have plummeted. Monarch butterflies are vanishing. And the American Burrowing Beetle is no exception. These handsome orange and black beetles have lost more than 90% of their population. This beetle was listed on the Endangered Species Act in 1989, but for decades the oil and gas industries have fought to have those protections removed. Climate change is wreaking havoc on the remaining beetles in the southern Plains. On September 3, 2020, The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service downlisted this beetle from endangered to threatened despite the fact that their decline continues. In addition, the new ruling allows oil and gas companies to develop in the beetle’s sensitive habitat in Oklahoma.
If you would like to make your thoughts known about this downlisting, submit your comments to the USFWS here or call 1‑800‑344‑WILD. Writing letters to your representatives and senators can also be effective.
10) Alaskan Coral
While most people think of coral as tropical species, the cold, deep waters of Alaska are home to many varieties of coral. Living in depths ranging from 3 to more than 4000 meters below sea level, these corals support a vast ecosystem comprised of sea stars, rockfish, king crabs, and more. But emissions of greenhouse gases cause ocean acidification and warming. As more glaciers and sea ice melt, introducing freshwater into the system, the ocean’s circulation changes.
In August 2012, The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the National Marine and Fisheries Service (NMFS) for the protection of forty-four taxa of coral. However, in February 2013, the NMFS decided not to protect any of the species.
If you would like to make a comment about the protection of coral, contact the Office of Habitat Conservation at the National Marine and Fisheries Service. You can call the Habitat Protection Division at 301-427-8601 or visit them here.
Climate change and habitat destruction are the biggest threats facing us and our planet. More people are aware of this threat and have changed their habits to help, such as eating less meat, recycling, and driving or flying less. Yet we face considerable challenges with getting effective, meaningful legislation put in place to protect species that are vanishing. We need to apply unprecedented pressure on our local, state, and federal governments. They must pursue renewable energy solutions, industrial pollution reduction, carbon taxing, regreening, and habitat protection and restoration. We’re lucky to live on this magnificent planet with its incredible biodiversity. But that biodiversity is rapidly shrinking and it’s not just the wildlife we share the planet with that is feeling the effects. Unprecedented hurricane seasons, crippling drought, flooding, and disastrous fires are now what we can expect each year.
We must speak out, louder than ever.
Sign these petitions to help save animals from extinction:
- Save North Atlantic Right Whales, the Rarest of all Large Whales
- Support the Polar Bear Cub Survival Act
- Ban Polar Bear Trophy Hunting
- Halt Environmental Rollbacks to Save Polar Bears from Extinction
- Demand the UN Form a Task Force to Address Climate Change and the Decline in Animal Populations
- Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises Face Unprecedented Risk of Extinction, Hundreds of Scientists Warn
- 40% of World’s Plant Species at Risk of Extinction, New Report Finds
- Scientists Predict North Atlantic Right Whale Extinction After No Calves Were Spotted – Here’s How You Can Help
- Polar Bear Dens in the Arctic Threatened by Oil Industry
- Climate Change Will Wipe Out Polar Bears by 2100, New Study Finds
- Habitat of Local Sage-Grouse Bird Under Threat Due to Kanye West’s Ranch Expansion in Wyoming
- 10 Major Environmental Rollbacks by the Trump Administration That Will Harm Animals
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