At least 277 plant and animal species have gone extinct in North America since the 1700s, data show
This week, the Trump administration finalized changes intended to weaken key provisions of the Endangered Species Act.
As Darryl Fears writes for The Washington Post, the changes would “allow the administration to reduce the amount of habitat set aside for wildlife and remove tools that officials use to predict future harm to species as a result of climate change. It would also reveal for the first time in the law’s 45-year history the financial costs of protecting them.”
The changes have drawn widespread condemnation from the scientific community, including complaints the administration is weakening protections for vulnerable species just as scientific consensus is converging on the idea that Earth is now in the midst of its sixth mass extinction event, a man-made disaster with radically destabilizing consequences.
In North America alone, at least 277 plant and animal species have gone extinct since Europeans first arrived on the continent, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, regarded by scientists as the gold standard for data on threatened and endangered species.
the gold standard for data on threatened and endangered species.
The list of the fallen includes some relatively familiar creatures, such as the passenger pigeon and the Steller’s sea cow. But it’s composed primarily of mollusks, insects and other more obscure organisms. Most importantly, it’s egregiously incomplete: Biologists estimate that only about 10 percent of the world’s plant and animal species has been identified and categorized, meaning that many are being killed off before humans are even aware of their existence.
“We’re obliterating landscapes before we’ve even had a chance to catalogue the species that lived there,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. The true number of species that we’ve wiped out, she says, is “completely unknown.”