Photo: USFWS / Flickr
As the Obama administration prepares to hand over the reins of the executive branch to President-elect Donald Trump, the Washington, D.C.-based Endangered Species Coalition today released a “Top 10” list of imperiled species in need of strong conservation measures. The report, “Removing the Walls to Recovery: Top 10 Species Priorities for a New Administration,” highlights some of the most significant threats to vanishing wildlife such as jaguars and elephants, and identifies important actions the next administration could take to prevent their extinction.
The report includes the imperiled Caribbean elkhorn coral, Acropora palmata. The Center for Biological Diversity nominated the elkhorn for the report because it is threatened by climate change, ocean acidification and disease. A foundational species, elkhorn coral plays a critical role as a building block for coral reef ecosystems. The worldwide decline of corals due to climate change will affect thousands of marine species and people that depend on them for survival.
“Elkhorn corals in the Caribbean are indicators of widespread ecosystem degradation,” said Dr. Abel Valdivia, a marine ecologist with the Center. “The recovery of elkhorn corals in the Caribbean and corals worldwide will depend in part of our capacity to drastically curb carbon emissions in the next decade to reduce ocean warming.”
Other critically important species in the report are keystone species such as Hawaii’s yellow-faced bees, jaguars and Snake River chinook salmon. All keystone species have a disproportionately large impact on other species and ecosystems relative to their abundance; Hawaii’s yellow-faced bees are pollinators affected by habitat loss.
The jaguar of the southwestern United States is a keystone predator. It is particularly threatened by habitat fragmentation caused, in part, by impenetrable immigration barriers along the U.S. – Mexican border. The report urges Trump to abandon plans to further fortify the southern border, and to make existing barriers more wildlife friendly.
Snake River chinook salmon, meanwhile, are among the longest and highest-migrating salmon on the planet — often swimming 1,000 miles upstream and climbing more than 6,000 feet in elevation to reach their spawning grounds. More than 130 other species depend upon salmon, including orcas, bears and eagles.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to protect the greater sage grouse — an umbrella species— as endangered in 2014, citing an unprecedented region-wide habitat conservation effort tied to state and federal conservation plans. But several appropriations riders offered in Congress in 2016 would block implementation of these conservation plans, as well as any future Endangered Species Act protections for the imperiled bird. Meanwhile grouse numbers have declined 90 percent from historic levels. Protecting umbrella species like sage grouse conserves habitats on which many other species rely.
“Our native fish, plants and wildlife are critically valuable and part of the legacy we leave for future generations of Americans,” said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition. “We hope the next administration takes seriously its responsibility to protect endangered species and habitat. The fate of species is in their hands. Their actions could dictate whether species such as the vaquita, the red wolf and others become extinct in the wild.”
The remaining species featured in the Endangered Species Coalition’s report include the African elephant, bald cypress tree, gray wolf and vaquita — a small, severely endangered Mexican porpoise.
Endangered Species Coalition member groups nominated wildlife species for the report. A committee of distinguished scientists reviewed the nominations and decided which species should be included in the final report. The full report, along with links to photos and additional species information can be viewed and downloaded from the website, http://removingthewallstorecovery.org.
The Endangered Species Coalition produces a “Top 10” report annually, focusing on a different theme each year. Previous years’ reports are also available on the coalition’s website.