18 November 2019
Climate change is a threat to hundreds of endangered animals, but conservationists aren’t taking this into account in their plans to save the threatened species.
That’s the finding of Aimee Delach of conservation organisation Defenders of Wildlife, based in Washington DC. She and her colleagues have analysed the plans for 459 of the animals listed as endangered – meaning they could soon go extinct – under the US Endangered Species Act.
Under the act, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service are required to come up with plans to save listed species. The act does not mention global warming but these agencies have explicitly recognised it as a threat since 2007 and do take it into account for some species.
For instance, the bull trout needs cold water. So when the wildlife service looked at which areas needed to be protected to save the species – regarded merely as threatened rather than endangered – it included only those where water temperatures are projected to remain cold enough for the fish to survive. “That’s a great example,” says Delach.
Her team found that 458 of the 459 animals are sensitive to climate change, according to publicly available data – the Hawaii goose is the only exception. For instance, some live in seasonal pools or small streams that will dry out for much longer as it gets warmer.
The team then looked through all the available government documents relating to these species, up to the end of 2018. They found the agencies consider climate change a threat to only 64 per cent of the 459 species and only have any climate-related plans for 18 per cent of them. And that 18 per cent includes some plans that just say more research on the effects of climate change is needed.
“The plans are inadequate to save species given the threat of climate change,” says Delach. What’s more, recent policy changes by the current administration have made it even easier to ignore climate change, she says.
The agencies also lack resources, Delach says. “They don’t have the funding to deal with present threats, let alone future threats.”
The US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service did not respond to requests for comment.
Journal reference: Nature Climate Change, DOI: 10.1038/s41558-019-0620-8
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