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Wildlife conservation: forgotten and forgoed

Wildlife conservation is the last priority on policymakers’ lists despite alarming statistics in recent years.

According to the Living Planet Report 2020 by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the population sizes of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have dropped by an average of 68 percent since 1970. For North America specifically, it is by 33 percent.

This data can be attributed to habitat destruction, overexploitation, poaching, culling, pollution and climate change, all problems caused by human activity that have plagued the world for decades. As of today, only about 25 percent of Earth’s ice-free land can still be considered wildlife; the rest has been altered by humans, as stated by GSA Today.

Climate change especially has had a very wide and varied impact on wildlife around the world. Its effects include shorter hibernation periods, changes in migration patterns, plants blooming earlier, the distribution of animals and even what time of the year birds lay their eggs. Not only that, rising sea levels—a 101mm increase in just 30 years—threaten to ruin over 30 percent of Caribbean sea turtle nesting beaches.

It is up to the authorities around the world to tackle these issues, and they did. But is it too little, too late?

Some actions the U.S. government took in the pursuit of wildlife conservation include the passing of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973. The ESA is the primary federal law for protecting wildlife threatened by extinction. It established a list of endangered and threatened species and designates a “critical area” for species near extinction to recover and eventually be removed from the list. The ESA also made the “taking”—that is, killing, harming, harassing, possessing or transporting—of any endangered species illegal. Penalties for violating the ESA may include imprisonment and a fine of up to $50,000.

However, as vital as the ESA is to wildlife conservation, not everyone in the government approves of it. In 2018, lobbyists, Republican legislators and the Trump administration proposed legislation that would add economic considerations when determining if a species is endangered or threatened. In the long-term, this would ultimately make it much more difficult to protect endangered flora and fauna.

Fortunately, there are several other government acts that are a good step toward wildlife conservation. One such is the National Wildlife Refuge System, which is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and protects a system of public lands and waters spanning 150,000,000 acres set aside for America’s fish, wildlife and plants.

Britain, too, should be accredited for its work against the declining animal populace. United for Wildlife, led by The Duke of Cambridge and The Royal Foundation, aims to protect elephants, rhinos, tigers and more from poaching. It pushed for the passing of the Buckingham Palace Declaration and Mansion House Declaration, which increased defenses against animal traffickers in 2016 and 2018 respectively, only a few years after the organization’s inception in 2014.

Still, it is not enough. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) says that over 40,000 species or 28% of all assessed species are endangered. The list that the ESA established identifies them.

This inaction is a trend that stretches far beyond just wildlife conservation. It is further proven by President Biden’s response—or rather, the lack thereof—to the devastating volcanic eruption that took place on Jan. 15 in Tonga. According to NASA, the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai eruption was equal to that of “hundreds of Hiroshima bombs.” It generated tsunamis and earthquakes alike, causing heightened waves even across the Pacific on the beaches of California. In spite of this, neither President Biden nor Vice President Harris have so far released a statement regarding the situation.

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