On February 6, 2020, Jacob Malcom, Director of the Center for Conservation Innovation at Defenders of Wildlife, testified before the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies of the House Appropriations Committee.
The science marshalled in recent months and years shows with unrivaled clarity that this is a pivotal time for wildlife and for humanity. You might be familiar with last year’s global assessment on the status of biodiversity and ecosystem services:
- 1 in 8 species on Earth – about 1 million species – are facing extinction. We are losing species faster than ever in human history, tens to hundreds of times faster than the background extinction rate, and we are the cause.
- The loss of species is driven by the fact that we have altered over 75% of terrestrial environments and 66% of marine environments. Combined with ongoing threats as diverse as climate change and invasive species, the damage we have done and are doing to nature is almost unimaginable.
- The consequences are as dire for humanity as they are for wildlife. As one example, half a trillion dollars of crops per year are at risk from pollinator loss. Ecosystem services, from fisheries to water filtration and beyond, are all at grave risk because of the damage to natural systems.
Yet despite the darkness of these results, there is reason for hope; we also have solutions. The U.S. is fortunate to have effective strategies—from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to a strong public lands system—that can work, but only if we fund them.
Defenders appreciates the increases for key wildlife programs provided in the final FY 2020 omnibus appropriations bill, but years of severely inadequate funding and the scale of the catastrophe facing the planet’s wildlife mean significantly more funding is needed in every area. We are also opposed to the administration’s various efforts to reorganize the Department of the Interior and to restructure or relocate some of its agencies and programs. These efforts seem more focused on undermining agency transparency and dismantling programs that conserve the lands, water and wildlife under the Department’s jurisdiction rather than to achieve any efficiencies or real improvements in management.
We know we can make a difference when we act. For example, we have reduced the risk of extinction by some 20-29% globally by acting and investing in conservation. In the U.S. this is because of over a century of successful conservation laws, starting with the Lacey Act in 1900, and because of our stewardship of federal public lands and private lands across the country.
The ESA is the epitome of success: over 95% of species listed under the ESA are still with us today, and hundreds are on the path to recovery. This record of success is made all the more stunning in light of the fact that we have invested less than 25% of what scientists say is needed to conserve these species. Imagine what we can do for all the species still on the brink if we fully fund the ESA! This point was perhaps made most clearly last fall in the journal Science when 1,800 scientists endorsed greater ESA funding as a key strategy for responding to the biodiversity crisis.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is our nation’s premier wildlife conservation agency. While we appreciate the increases provided in the FY 2020 bill, the agency needs significantly greater increases to support recovery of threatened and endangered species; protection of migratory birds and fish, species of global conservation concern and other trust species; and prevention of both domestic and international wildlife crimes.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the lead agency for most listed species, but its endangered species budget needs nearly double its current funding, a total of $486 million per year, to carry out its mission as Congress intended. The listing program, recovery program, consultation and planning program, Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund, Wolf Livestock Loss Demonstration Program, and many others lay out a path to address the extinction crisis that looms before us. But they can only succeed with support.
Americans depend on nature and the ecosystem services it provides. Fundamentally, laws like the ESA will be little more than lip service of our dedication to wildlife if they are not funded and fully carried out. We need our leaders to use their authorities—like the power of the purse—to act to reverse the trend of species decline and extinction.