Funding Shortages Jeopardize Endangered Species Conservation Efforts

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Since the passage of the Endangered Species Act 50 years ago, over 1,700 species in the US have been listed as threatened or endangered with extinction. However, recent federal government data reveals significant disparities in the allocation of funds to save these species. This raises concerns about the effectiveness of conservation efforts and the potential neglect of certain species.

Out of the approximately $1.2 billion spent annually on endangered and threatened species, nearly half is directed towards the recovery of just two types of fish: salmon and steelhead trout along the West Coast. While these species are undoubtedly important, the disproportionate allocation of funds means that others have been neglected, some for decades, as they teeter on the brink of extinction.

The spending disparities become even more apparent when examining individual species. For instance, the tiny Virginia fringed mountain snail had only $100 spent on its behalf in 2020, despite being seen only once in the past 35 years. In contrast, more than 200 imperiled plants, animals, fish, and other creatures received no funding at all. This raises questions about the prioritization of species and the potential consequences of neglecting those with minimal funding.

Climate change further exacerbates the challenges faced by endangered species, increasing the number of organisms that qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act. However, government officials are struggling to execute the required recovery actions due to limited resources. Some scientists argue for a reallocation of funds, suggesting that less expensive recovery plans for lesser-known species should be prioritized over costly efforts that may yield uncertain results.

Leah Gerber, a professor of conservation science at Arizona State University, highlights the need for a more balanced approach to funding. She suggests that diverting a fraction of the budget currently allocated to charismatic species like the spotted owl could save entire species of cacti that have smaller budgets but are equally deserving of protection.

An analysis of 2020 data by the Associated Press reveals that fish received the largest share of funding, accounting for 67 percent of the total expenditure. This primarily benefited salmon and steelhead populations in California, Oregon, and Washington. Mammals followed at a distant second with 7 percent, while birds received approximately 5 percent. Insects and plants received significantly less funding, with just 0.5 percent and 2 percent respectively. It is important to note that these percentages do not include funds divided among multiple species.

The lack of funding for certain species is concerning. Stoneflies threatened by climate change in Montana’s Glacier National Park, the stocky California tiger salamander facing habitat loss due to development, and flowering plants like the scrub lupine in Orlando, Florida, which have been impacted by habitat conversion for theme parks, are just a few examples of species that received no financial support.

These spending inequities are deeply rooted and influenced by both biological realities and political pressures. Restoring salmon and steelhead populations, for instance, is costly due to their widespread distribution and the presence of massive hydroelectric dams. Additionally, these species have a significant political constituency, including Native American tribes and commercial fishing interests, who advocate for their restoration.

Over the years, Congress has allocated substantial sums of money to agencies such as the Bonneville Power Administration, responsible for operating dams along rivers where these fish once spawned. These funds are utilized for initiatives such as the construction of fish ladders, habitat restoration projects, scientific monitoring, and other critical needs.

It is worth noting that the Endangered Species Act initially almost excluded the entire plant kingdom when it was adopted in 1973. However, thanks to subsequent amendments and advocacy efforts, plants are now recognized as a significant portion of protected species. Nonetheless, the disparities in funding persist, and more attention needs to be given to the conservation of imperiled plant species.

In conclusion, the disparities in funding for endangered species in the US raise concerns about the effectiveness of conservation efforts and the potential neglect of certain species. With climate change exacerbating threats to organisms worldwide, it is crucial to reevaluate the allocation of funds and prioritize species with smaller budgets but equal ecological importance. A more balanced and inclusive approach to conservation funding is necessary to ensure the long-term survival of all endangered species.

Source: The Manila Times

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