Feds move forward on introducing imperiled species outside historic habitat
The Fish and Wildlife Service has finalized a plan that will give it more flexibility in helping species recover when their historic range is no longer suitable for survival.
by Edward Pettersson, Courthouse News, June 30, 2023
(CN) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will launch its plan to introduce experimental populations of endangered and threatened species in suitable habitats outside their historic range to help them survive as climate change and invasive species make their original territories unlivable.
The service said Friday it has finalized a revision, proposed a year ago, to its regulations for introducing experimental populations, which will give it more flexibility to help with the recovery of imperiled species.
"The impacts of climate change on species habitat are forcing some wildlife to new areas to survive, while squeezing other species closer to extinction," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. "The Interior Department is committed to using all of the tools available to help halt declines and stabilize populations of the species most at-risk.”
Experimental populations have regularly been used to aid the recovery of numerous listed species, according to Fish and Wildlife, including California condors, whooping cranes and Sonoran pronghorns. The agency said last year it was considering introducing the Guam kingfisher outside its historical range because the species cannot return to Guam given the presence of brown tree snakes.
Several species and ecosystems are losing habitat due to increased temperatures, altered rain and snow patterns, sea level rise, and greater frequency and intensity of drought and wildfires, the service said when it announced the proposal last year. These species include the Mt. Rainier ptarmigan in Washington state, Montana stoneflies and the emperor penguin, found in the Antarctic.
Climate change has also exacerbated existing threats to plants and wildlife, according to the Service, such as greater threats from disease and invasive species. In Hawaii, increased temperatures has been driving the spread of avian malaria among some of the world’s most endangered birds, according to the service, as mosquitoes move upslope.
The update to what has been proven conservation tool will allow the service to keep better pace with corresponding science, which has shown that climate change and invasive species are pushing plants and animals into completely new geographic areas to find the habitat they need for their survival.
For example, increasing invasive species encroachment is causing habitats to become unsuitable within listed species’ historical ranges. This is of particular concern for species on the Hawaiian Islands and other island communities. Improving the Endangered Species Act’s experimental population regulations will prevent more species from becoming stranded when conditions change in their current habitat and help establish them in more suitable habitats given these rising threats.