Climate change is a threat to hundreds of species of endangered animals, but conservationists aren’t taking this into account in their plans to save those at risk.
That’s the finding of Aimee Delach at conservation organisation Defenders of Wildlife, based in Washington DC. She and her colleagues analysed conservation plans for 459 of the animals listed as endangered – meaning they could soon go extinct – under the US Endangered Species Act.
According to the legislation, 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 doesn’t 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 – which is regarded as threatened rather than endangered and isn’t one of the 459 species analysed by Delach’s team – needs cold water. So when the wildlife service looked at which areas needed to be protected to save the species, 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, with the only exception being the Hawaiian goose. For instance, some animals 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. It found that the agencies consider climate change a threat to only 64 per cent of the 459 species and have climate-related plans for only 18 per cent of them. That figure 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 US administration have made it even easier to ignore climate change, she says.
The agencies also lack resources, says Delach: “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 didn’t respond to requests for comment.