Endangered Species Coalition Lists 10 Species Endangered By Climate Change

A small turtle from the eastern U.S. A species of trout native to Glacier and North Cascades national parks. Grizzly bears. A prairie orchid. These are among the ten plant, fish, animal, and bird species listed in a new report as being the "hottest" species imperiled by climate change.

Hyperbole aside, the report from the Endangered Species Coalition is just the latest warning of extinctions throughout the "wild kingdom" that will occur unless climate change is muted. Similar reports were issued earlier this year by the National Parks Conservation Association and the Natural Resources Defense Council. A new focus in this latest report is how the authors looked at species already listed as either "threatened" or "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act.

This year, our America’s Hottest Species report focuses on wildlife, fish, birds and plants on the U.S. list of threatened and endangered species that are particularly imperiled by global warming. The vast majority of these species were “listed” due to other causes. Only the polar bear and two corals have been listed as a result of the threat of global warming. However, scientists are increasingly seeing that climate change is like a bulldozer shoving species, already on the brink of extinction, perilously closer to the edge of existence.

A definitive list on the ten most impacted species is impossible, given the number of species feeling the heat from global warming. Therefore, the species included here are meant as ambassadors, representing the kinds of threats that many endangered species face across the nation. And listed species aren’t the only ones in jeopardy. Climate change is dangerous to a host of other species. The Pacific walrus, the Pika, the Wolverine, the Boreal toad, Mason’s skypilot, and the Bearded, Ringed and Spotted seals are all increasingly losing ground, quite literally, due to climate change. These species, and many others, are going to need significant help to survive.

Understandably, a common thread runs through all these reports: Unless climate change is slowed, habitats across the world, including those in national parks, will be altered. Land managers will confront a host of changes that will force them to reassess long-held practices. Non-native species -- plants, animals, fish, birds -- might very well become natives, vegetative regimes could change, drought-conditions could be exacerbated, runoff from snowpack and glaciers will be altered if not turned off.

"According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 20 to 30 percent of the world’s species will be at an increased risk of extinction if global temperature rises above 1.5 to 2.5° C above pre-industrial levels. Driving this many species to extinction will result in a planet that has lost its beautiful diversity and many of the benefits that nature provides," Leda Huta, the coalition's executive director, writes in the introduction to the report. "While some of us may throw our hands up in hopelessness at this news, there is a much better response—working for change. Our political leaders finally appear to be on the cusp of taking serious action to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. But, they won’t succeed without an outpouring of support from Americans for strong climate change legislation and strong international agreements."

Here's a glimpse at some of the report's findings, and some of the national parks involved. You can find the entire report attached below.

Elkhorn Coral
Virgin Islands National Park, Biscayne National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park

The rising temperature of the ocean as a result of global warming is the single greatest threat to this coral species, as well as coral reefs more generally worldwide. When corals are stressed by warm ocean temperatures, they experience bleaching — which means they expel the colorful algae upon which they rely for energy and growth. Many corals die or succumb to disease after bleaching. Mass bleaching events have become much more frequent and severe as ocean temperatures have risen in recent decades. Scientists predict that most of the world’s corals will be subjected to mass bleaching events at deadly frequencies within 20 years on our current emissions path.

A related threat, ocean acidification, caused by the ocean’s absorption of carbon dioxide, impairs the ability of corals to build their protective skeletons. Scientists have predicted that most of the world’s coral reefs will disappear by mid-century due to global warming and ocean acidification unless carbon dioxide pollution is rapidly reduced.

Bull trout
Glacier National Park, North Cascades National Park

As late summer flows are affected by global warming, fewer rivers will be able to provide ample cold water for bull trout. Bull trout distribution is also related to air temperature, so the heightened ambient air temperatures of the bull trout’s habitat caused by global warming are reducing their survivable habitat. The warming climate also affects precipitation and timing in the Rockies, which is predominately driven by snowfall and snowmelt. The timing and duration of spring runoff could dramatically affect stream temperatures, habitat creation, and therefore the spawning activities of the bull trout.

Canada lynx
Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park

Canada lynx are especially vulnerable to global warming. In order to maintain a competitive advantage over other predators, this species depends on high elevation habitat with cold, snowy winters. As temperatures rise with global warming, the snowpack and forests that lynx rely on are predicted to move upward in altitude and northward in latitude. As their habitat shifts upward in elevation, current lynx populations will likely become more isolated. Thus, protecting habitat at higher elevations as well as important corridors linking those areas is just as critical as protecting current Canada lynx habitat in order to ensure the long-term survival of the species.

Pacific salmon
Olympic National Park, North Cascades National Park

Salmonids are cold water fish which typically die when exposed for very long to freshwater temperatures above about 20º C. (72º F.) Global warming has pushed the average summer temperatures of many west coast river systems above that mortality threshold, killing many fish. Global climate change is also diminishing total river flows throughout the northwest and California, as well as changing the basic hydrology that these fish evolved with. In many areas their already limited range is likely to contract. Depleted genetic diversity as well as accelerated habitat loss due to human development has reduced their ability to respond to these stresses. Changing ocean conditions, including ocean acidification, are causing additional stresses to these populations from global warming.

Leatherback sea turtle
Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Cape Lookout National Seashore, Gulf Islands National Seashore

Climate change is altering the oceans physically and chemically as warmer waters expand, ice covers recede, circulation patterns change, and the pH of the oceans declines. Leatherbacks (and all six other species of marine turtles) will be affected by freshwater from melting glaciers, changes in salinity and oxygen, and altered ocean chemistry as shifts occur in currents, key habitats, and the range and abundance of prey species.

Changing ocean conditions are especially threatening in the Pacific where leatherback nesting populations are declining dramatically. Warmer-than-usual waters of El Nino years significantly reduce oceanic productivity by inhibiting the mixing of surface water with deeper, cold waters, resulting in less available food near the surface and reducing the reproductive potential of leatherbacks and other marine species.

Global climate change threatens reproduction on nesting beaches throughout the leatherback’s range. The sex of a developing leatherback embryo is dependent on the temperature of incubation in the nest, with warmer temperatures producing females and cooler temperatures producing males. Warmer beaches initially will produce more female offspring, to the detriment of the production of males; hot beaches ultimately will be lethal to embryos. Seasonal variation in rainfall and drought will alter incubation conditions and increase embryo losses. Other effects of climate change include increased numbers of hurricanes and severe storms, associated beach erosion, nest loss and the destruction of nesting habitat.

Bog Turtle
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Shenandoah National Park, Blue Ridge Parkway

Bog turtles are extremely sensitive to the effects of global warming. The turtle’s survival is closely tied to its delicate habitat. Erratic weather patterns resulting from global warming will disrupt the fragile balance key to the turtle’s survival. By altering hydrological cycles, global warming will either dry out or flood the turtle’s habitat. In addition to bog turtles needing a very specific habitat, much of the remaining habitat in the Northeast has been fragmented apart by roads and development. As the changing climate alters the availability of the turtle’s current habitat, they will have very limited
ability to migrate to places that could be more suitable.

Western Prairie Fringed Orchid
Pipestone National Monument, Niobrara National Scenic River

Prairie potholes are the depressions that remained when glaciers receded from the Midwest 10,000 years ago. These potholes make up part of the seasonal wetlands of the Great Plains. In order to thrive, the Western Prairie Fringed Orchid relies on regular rainfall to maintain these distinctive wetlands.

Global warming may threaten this balance by significantly altering the hydrological cycles of the Midwest. Unlike many other parts of the country, climate models indicate that the upper Great Plains may experience an increase in the total amount of precipitation each year. However, while the overall amount may be higher it is predicted that this will be experienced with significant increases in Spring rain, but also increased drought in late Summer. Both the possible Spring flooding and Summer drought could harm the orchid.

The drought of the 1980s significantly reduced flower production and pollination when many of the perennial plants failed to regenerate. As these wetlands begin to dry, invasive plants such as the leafy spurge will crowd the region and eliminate the conditions required for the orchid’s survival.

As for what to do, the report calls or Congress to pass meaningful climate change legislation, and for the Obama administration to take a significant leadership role in battling climate change.

The United States clearly needs to demonstrate leadership on climate change. Negotiating an effective and binding international agreement is essential. Furthermore, the Department of the Interior and the National Oceans and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have crucial roles to play in helping our nation’s wildlife, fish and plants survive the global warming impacts we have begun experiencing. Global warming must be factored into all endangered species related decisions now made in order to help prevent species from disappearing forever. The Interior Department‘s Fish and Wildlife Service has taken an important initial step by drafting a global warming plan for their areas of work. This is good progress and it should be complimented by similar efforts in all the other land, water and wildlife agencies of the U.S. Government.

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Comments

Kurt, thanks for putting this on the NPT blog. Excellent source and wealth of information on America's endangered species. It's current and up to date!

Thanks, Kurt.

It's all sad, very sad, that most people, and most of our leadership it appears, simply aren't interested in climate change. With all the ostrich-headed deniers; unethical, quisling scientists-for-hire; cranial-rectal inverted politicians; barking-mad conservative media windbags; and arrogant humvee drivers disinterested in personal responsibility and funding mass transport, nothing will happen. These species are doomed.

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My travels through the National Park System: americaincontext.com

Man-made climate change is a hoax. Scan the news about the scientist's emails.

There are at least 10,000+ scientists around the world who would disagree with you, Brad. The email story was certainly sensational, but didn't change anything in the core science of climate change.

And even more scientists agree with me. It is very arrogant for men to think we can control the entire planet. Climate naturally cycles throughout the ages, and our actions have very little lasting impact on it. If we effect it at all, it is only the heat islands large cities produce and the flooding from paving everything. Still global means that - the whole earth is affected which just isn't true. How would these so-called "scientists" that support man-made climate change explain the coming of and exiting from the last ice age when man was not here or at least not in large numbers and definitely without cars, power, plastic, etc.?

It is a ponzi scheme designed to globally redistribute wealth from countries like America to 3rd world countries - at least on paper. Actually, like all political schemes, it really just makes a few elites in power richer while the rest of us pay with loss of freedoms and property.

>>If we effect it at all, it is only the heat islands large cities produce and the flooding from paving everything.<<

And what about impacts from deforestation, and the industrialization that goes along with those urban areas? No one is disputing that climate naturally cycles. But the evidence exists that anthropogenic factors are hastening the current climatic trends.

Brad, you're completely wrong and listening to those with personal agendas (like significant investments in oil stock portfolios).

NASA itself has charts showing warming temperatures worldwide. NOAA and other, similar bodies worldwide have data spanning 100 years or so showing global warming is happening. Ice core samples shows CO2 levels matched historically only after significant volcanic activity (of which there hasn't been any, even counting Mt. St. Helens and others). Scientific analysis shows this CO2 is from burning of petrochemicals and nothing else. Scientific analysis can also show the warming is from increases in greenhouse gases and not from solar output or other, similar things. This can be deduced by measuring input from the sun vs. output from reflection. What remains = greenhouse effect.

Besides, it makes complete, logical sense. Think about it:

-- Oil is a direct result of the biodegradation of plant life from prehistoric times
-- During prehistoric times, the CO2 levels were significantly higher than today. Orders of magnitude. This is largely due to extreme vulcanism during the early days of earth.
-- Early periods in earth's history were dominated by plant species. Basically, nearly the entirety of the land mass was a jungle. Paleobotanists have conjectured the earth has never since been as dominated by plants.
-- Over time, all these massive amounts of plants converted gaseous CO2 into other forms of carbon (leaves, sticks, etc.), giving off O2 (oxygen) into the atmosphere. That took a loooooooong time. O2 then gave rise to animal life.
-- All this plant matter carbon then took millions and millions of years to "cook down" to oil deposits. This "cooking down" greatly reduced the volume of carbon (like a compost pile reduces in volume as it cooks down). Coal is the same except compression is the force at work there.
-- The nature of carbon, plus the fact that CO2 levels in the atmosphere are low compared to early Earth, tells us the carbon content of oil and coal is roughly equal to that of all the plant matter that existed during that particular prehistoric time. It's just greatly compressed.
-- So, there's a buttload of compressed carbon buried in the earth in multiple forms. This compression means it contains a lot of energy.
-- Now, start burning that oil or coal. Burning carbon creates CO2, natural chemistry.
-- But you're burning COMPRESSED CARBON. You're taking eons and eons of decayed plant matter and releasing it in a very, very short amount of time. 100 years vs. millenia.

Clearly it can be deduced that taking something that took 600 millions years to compress, and only 100 years to decompress, is not a good thing.

Oh, and we are close to decompressing all of it. Google "peak oil whistleblower" for more. Which brings up other points:

1) Peak oil is upon us. With dependency on oil, we are looking at WWIII as countries fight for oil. Big reason to get off the stuff.
2) There is a direct corelation between fossil fuel use and health issues like asthma. Big reason to get off the stuff.
3) Wars are continually fought over oil. Big reason to get off the stuff.
4) Most oil producing countries are tyranical and/or support terrorism. Big reason to get off the stuff.
5) Coal mining is one of the most damaging activities for the environment. Big reason to get off the stuff.

So we have global warming which is real (although, probably, irreversible at this point), plus all these other reasons. Why do we still have our collective heads in the sand and refuse to take any concrete steps to reduce our oil consumption?????

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My travels through the National Park System: americaincontext.com

I suspect much of the debate about climate change and whether it is influenced by human activity hinges on two factors:

1. Economics. If we accept that climate change is a problem and human activity plays a role, there will have to be significant changes in the way we go about our lives, and those changes will cost money. Denying that there may be a problem allows the status quo to continue within minimal inconvenience for most of us in the Western world - at least for the time being.

2. Political ideology. Many people associate the global warming and climate change issues with Al Gore and "liberals," so at least some "conservatives" therefore feel honor bound to reject the topic and any proposed solutions. This is merely one of many examples of a dangerous trend in American life, which is to automatically reject any ideas advanced by the opposing political party. I see that as a problem on both sides of the political spectrum. Heaven forbid we might have some reasoned discourse on a topic without worrying about whether it's a "Democratic" or "Republican" (or "liberal" vs. "conservative") issue - or about which party will get the credit or the blame for the problem and solutions.

The claim that the concept of human influenced climate change somehow displays "arrogance" seems the reverse of reality. It is supreme arrogance to assert that we have no responsibility for what we have created, that we are somehow above the laws of nature. We have wantonly consumed and frequently wasted enormous finite reserves of oil, natural gas and coal with little or no regard for future generations or the natural world that is ultimately the foundation of all life, our own included. Atmospheric CO2 levels are now 385 ppm and likely will exceed 390 ppm within a year. That is a higher concentration than has existed over the past one million years. How can anyone deny that, 1. climate change is taking place and 2. we are contributors?