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Endangered animals in the U.S. will have trouble adapting to the climate crisis, study finds


Nov. 20 2019, Updated 12:16 p.m. ET

The climate crisis is already linked to so many animals becoming endangered and extinct — and according to a study published on Monday, Nov. 18, rates are on track to get worse in the U.S. The study, which examined endangered species sensitivity across the U.S., found that agency plans are not sufficient enough to conserve the country's 459 endangered species from the climate crisis.

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The paper, titled "Agency plans are inadequate to conserve US endangered species under climate change," was recently published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change. The study's authors found that out of the 459 animal species currently protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, 458 of them are sensitive to one or more of eight climate change sensitivity factors. The factors are as follows: temperature, hydrology, disturbance, isolation, injurious species, chemistry, phenology, and obligate relationships. 

Basically, all but one of the 459 endangered species in the U.S. are vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis, and will likely have trouble adapting to the changing climate. And not only that, but it's unclear if the U.S. government has adequate plans to help protect these species from the changing climate. According to the study, government agencies only consider climate change as a serious threat to 64 percent of species, and there are plans in place to protect only 18 percent of species. Amphibians, mollusks, and arthropods were vulnerable to the highest number of sensitivity factors, while mammals were vulnerable to the lowest amount of factors.

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The Guardian spoke with one of the study's co-authors, Astrid Caldas, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, to learn more about what these findings mean. “This study confirms that the climate crisis could make it even harder for nearly all of our country’s endangered species to avoid extinction,” Caldas told the news outlet. “While agencies have increasingly listed climate change as a growing threat to species whose survival is already precarious, many have not translated this concern into tangible actions, meaning a significant protection gap still exists.”

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As the study notes, the two agencies responsible for the Endangered Species Act are the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The FWS sent a statement to The Hill in response to the study, leaving the agency's position on ramping up protections for endangered species vague.

"The ESA requires the Service to use the best available science in determining if a species is currently in danger of extinction (endangered), or likely to become so in the foreseeable future (threatened)," an FWS spokesperson wrote to The Hill. “Our process for determining this looks at five factors: threats to a species' habitat, overutilization, disease or predation, existing regulatory mechanisms, and other factors that may affect its continued existence. Through this scientifically rigorous process we examine and account for the effects of climate change.”

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With all this data available (and this paper is not the first to make the connection between the climate crisis and endangered species), why are the FSA and NMFS not taking these threats seriously? The study's authors believe that is due to three factors: the politicization of climate change, funding constraints and misuse of funds, and the agencies not having the tools and capacity to adequately protect every endangered species. 

Protecting our endangered species is vital to maintaining biodiversity and a healthy planet. If we want to protect our future, there's no time to waste when it comes to fighting the climate crisis.


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