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Wildlife Officials Take 23 Species Off The Endangered List Due To Extinction

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In the nearly 50 years since the Endangered Species Act was created, federal wildlife officials have removed just 11 species because of extinction. Today, that number jumped by 23. After exhaustive searches for the nearly two dozen birds, fish and freshwater mussels, wildlife officials have determined they're gone. NPR's Nathan Rott reports they are the latest to go extinct, and without action, they won't be the last.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: You could be forgiven for not having heard of the ivory-billed woodpecker or recognizing its distinct bleating call.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRD CALLING)

ROTT: Same for the haunting song of the Hawaiian Kauai O'o.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRD CALLING)

ROTT: Neither bird has been seen in the wild for decades, but it wasn't until earlier today that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that both birds, along with 21 other species, are extinct.

BRIDGET FAHEY: It's certainly sad news to announce that so many of these species are gone forever.

ROTT: Bridget Fahey is with the Fish and Wildlife Service.

FAHEY: It's a reminder of why we need the Endangered Species Act to help prevent species extinctions.

ROTT: Fahey says many of these species had already disappeared by the time the Endangered Species Act was created in 1973. Deb Haaland is the Secretary of Interior.

DEB HAALAND: The specifics for each of the species' demise vary, but the story arc is essentially the same. Humans altered their habitat in a significant way, and we couldn't or didn't do enough to change the trajectory before it was too late.

ROTT: The science behind Haaland's statement is clear. Humans are the main driver of extinction on the planet. Our roads, our fences, houses and parking lots are eroding habitat. Our fishing, hunting, resource extraction and logging are weakening populations. The pollution and climate warming greenhouse gas emissions we dump in the rivers and air are changing the very biosphere these species have thrived in. Combined, they're putting roughly a million species at risk of extinction globally, many within decades. That's partly why Haaland, along with other interior officials, announced the restoration of national protections for migratory birds earlier today that were weakened under the Trump administration.

HAALAND: We have got to do better by this planet, and we need to do it now.

ROTT: The Biden administration has promised to protect nearly a third of the country's land and water by the end of the decade to slow the collapse of nature. It's a pledge expected to be central in talks amongst world leaders later this year as they gather to address the decline in the world's biodiversity. But there are questions about how these conservation efforts are going to be implemented and how permanent those protections will be. The need, though, says Cam Tsujita, a paleontologist at Western University, is clear.

CAM TSUJITA: As humans, we are seeing things sort of day by day. And on a day-by-day basis, it may not seem to us that there is a crisis happening.

ROTT: But when you zoom out and take the long view...

TSUJITA: We are losing species at an alarming rate.

ROTT: And those species are crucial to human life on Earth. Take freshwater mussels, for example. They filter water, cleaning it of toxins, grit and pollutants. Eight of those mussel species are now extinct. And Tsujita says if something isn't done to stabilize the situation, losses like these will eventually catch up to us. Nathan Rott, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF NICHOLAS BRITELL'S "END CREDITS SUITE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.