New Study in Nature Climate Change Finds Nearly All US Endangered Species Sensitive to Climate Change

Federal Protective Actions Insufficient

Published Nov 18, 2019

WASHINGTON—U.S. government agencies are not doing enough to protect endangered species from the threat posed by climate change, according to a paper published today in Nature Climate Change by Aimee Delach, a biologist at Defenders of Wildlife, and Astrid Caldas, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Lead author Delach, Caldas, and eight other researchers examined the 459 U.S. endangered animal species for their sensitivity to climate change and ability to survive based on federal plans to protect them. The study found that 99.8 percent of the species (all but one) possess a trait that may make it challenging for them to adapt to the changes global warming is bringing.

Seventy-four percent of the species were identified as being sensitive to three or more factors impacted by climate change, such as altered temperature or hydrology, or a shift in seasons. Mammals such as the North Atlantic right whale and Florida panther were found to be sensitive to the fewest number of factors. Amphibians, mollusks and arthropods, including the Sonoran tiger salamander, white wartyback pearly mussel and Florida leafwing butterfly, were sensitive to the greatest number of factors.

Federal agencies, however, only consider 64 percent of endangered species to be threatened by climate change and have implemented protection plans for just 18 percent of listed species.

“This study confirms that the climate crisis could make it even harder for nearly all of our country’s endangered species to avoid extinction,” said Caldas. “While agencies have increasingly listed climate change as a growing threat to species whose survival is already precarious, many have not translated this concern into tangible actions meaning a significant protection gap still exists.

“While underfunding and the lack of tools to plan and implement needed actions could be partially to blame for the lack of action, the biggest roadblock is likely the repeated denial of the latest science by the current administration, members of Congress, and those who stand to gain from the continued use of damaging fossil fuels. Since 2016, agencies have given scant attention to the climate crisis more broadly. We still have time to safeguard many of the endangered species we treasure, but the window to act is narrowing.”

The results from this study are similar to recent findings about Australia, which suggests that other countries may likewise be falling short of protecting species threatened by climate change impacts.

More information on the study is available in the press release from Defenders of Wildlife.

If you want to know why people should care about these species and what agencies and the administration can do to be more effective, check out the latest blog by Jacob Carter, scientist in the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS.