Conservationists Celebrate Federal Introduction of 'Extinction Prevention Act'

A group of Democratic lawmakers on Thursday reintroduced bicameral legislation to help stem the planetary biodiversity crisis.

Entitled the Extinction Prevention Act of 2021 and led by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), the legislation (pdf) would fund conservation efforts for what the lawmakers call “less charismatic” but highly imperiled wildlife species.

“Each year hundreds of endangered species get no money for recovery and slip further towards extinction.”
—Stephanie Kurose, Center for Biological DiversityThe four groups of animals targeted in bill are endangered North American butterflies, Pacific Island plants, freshwater mussels, and Southwest desert fish. A $5 million per year grant program would be established for each group to fund conservation efforts including community outreach, research and monitoring, and ecosystem restoration.

The legislation was welcomed by Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s encouraging to see Congress begin to address the catastrophic loss of wildlife and plant life in this country,” she said in a statement.

“Each year hundreds of endangered species get no money for recovery and slip further towards extinction,” she continued. “The emergency funding provided in this legislation is a desperately needed first step towards stemming the global extinction crisis.”

A fact sheet (pdf) on the bill makes the case for why the targeted species—for whom the lawmakers say habitat protection is “chronically underfunded”—are desperately in need of protection:

  • North American butterflies are one of the fastest declining groups of all endangered species. Of the 39 listed species of butterflies, not a single one is known to be improving.
  • There are nearly 400 endangered and threatened plant species in Hawaii and the Pacific Islands, representing about 22% of all listed species. In Hawaii, more than 200 plant species have fewer than 50 wild individuals remaining.
  • Freshwater mussels are the most imperiled animal group in the country. Seventy percent of U.S. species are at risk of extinction; 38 species have already been lost.
  • Southwest desert fish are all in decline due to droughts and water scarcity. Many have experienced significant population and habitat reductions, and 42 species are listed as endangered or threatened.

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Co-sponsoring the House version of the legislation are Reps. Albio Sires (D-N.J.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Gregorio Sablan (D-CNMI), Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), Ed Case (D-Hawaii), Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.),  and Darren Soto (D-Fla.). Co-sponsors in the upper chamber are Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).

Grijalva, chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, stressed the urgency of the legislation.

“Our planet is losing far too many species, and this bill is our chance to turn the corner before it’s too late,” he said. Protecting endangered species, Grijalva continued, “is a matter of human survival and preserving quality of life on this planet.”

Scientists and environmental advocates have repeatedly urged lawmakers to adequately fund federal conservation efforts for endangered and threatened species. The Center for Biological Diversity, in its release Thursday, points to its 2016 analysis (pdf) showing that the funds appropriated to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for recovery of endangered species are 3.5% of what is needed.

An open letter released in 2019 and signed by over 1,600 scientists also addressed the money shortfall. “We have great laws on the books in the United States for endangered and threatened species. Where the gap is, is actually providing the funding to use those tools,” they wrote.

The new legislation was announced a day before Endangered Species Day, which, according to Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition, “celebrates our declared national responsibility to our children and their children to save our vanishing wildlife and plants.”

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