“Little is gained and much is lost.” Wednesday will see the announcement of 23 extinct species, including the iconic ivory-billed woodpecker.
This one hurts.
“Each of these 23 species represents a permanent loss to our nation’s natural heritage and to global biodiversity,” offers Bridget Fahey Wednesday. Fahey spearheads the classification of species for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The full species list, she says, will come as “a sobering reminder that extinction is a consequence of human-caused environmental change.”
Outsiders are stewards of the environment. And today the USFWS is being forced to write off, in total: 8 freshwater mussels, 2 fish species, 1 bat, 1 plant, and 11 bird species. This includes the ivory-billed woodpecker. Each will be declared extinct Wednesday, September 29, 2021.
“A bird this iconic, and this representative of the major old-growth forests of the southeast… Keeping it on the list of endangered species keeps attention on it. Keeps states thinking about managing habitat on the off chance it still exists,” Cornell University bird biologist John Fitzpatrick tells the Associated Press of the almost mythical ivory-bill.
Fitzpatrick, who the New York Times describes as “a leading figure in the hunt for the ivory-billed woodpecker,” insists that the USFWS’s extinction call on the species is premature. But either way, “little is gained and much is lost,” he tells the Times.
The caveat here, too, is that the majority of these species were likely extinct (or dwindling) by 1973 – the year America would instate its Endangered Species Act.
“The Endangered Species Act wasn’t passed in time to save most of these species,” adds Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s a tragedy.”
Ivory-Billed Woodpecker: Gone Forever?
From Arkansas and Louisiana to Mississippi and Florida, wildlife officials have been chasing the ivory bill for decades. These large woodpeckers were synonymous with the Southeast region for all of known history. Until colonization wiped out all but a handful, that is. This fraction of a population would dwindle in the 20th century. But by the time the 1980s rolled around, they might as well have been a unicorn.
Every few years, a Southerner will come forward with an ivory-bill sighting. The mythical quality they’ve taken on is a double-edged sword, however. On one side, this has strengthened the fight to keep them extant for generations. But it is also a constant reminder that humanity has killed nearly all of these once-thriving birds on the other.
Another hallmark of the Southeast will be ‘officially’ extinct Wednesday: the flat pigtoe freshwater mussel.
Yet it’s Hawaii that is suffering most. In total, the island state has the most species on the USFWS’s list. 8 woodland birds (including another species of honeycreeper bird) and 1 plant species are no longer extant.
No matter the state or region, however, the causes are the same. These 23 species no longer exist because of human overdevelopment. Invasive species. Exploitation via capture & poaching. And climate change, the USFWS cites. These same factors have led to over 900 species going extinct across the planet in recent history.
But there is always hope. Since the passing of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, 54 U.S. wildlife species have come off the Endangered list due to population recovery. Proof that conservation does, in fact, work wonders.