Nearly 40 percent of species worldwide face extinction — unless we reverse wildlife crisis

Nearly 40 percent of species worldwide face extinction — unless we reverse wildlife crisis
© Getty Images

Wildlife cannot speak for itself, but the facts about our actions, as humans, and the effects they’re having on wildlife are screaming out for attention and action. From habitat loss and invasive species to impacts from climate change and toxic pollution, our world is becoming less and less hospitable for iconic species and backyard icons alike.

A new Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services report has vividly highlighted the crisis we’ve created and our responsibility to reverse the world and America’s wildlife crisis.


According to the new report, up to 1 million animal and plant species are facing extinction in the coming decades — nearly 40 percent of all species — and require urgent conservation action. The report also found that the average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least one-fifth over the past century.

These alarming facts are mirrored by what we see here in the United States where more than one-third of our fish and wildlife species are at-risk of becoming extinct. We have already lost more than 150 species that are presumed extinct and another 500 species are missing in action. State fish and wildlife agencies have identified more than 13,000 species of greatest conservation need.  We’re losing ground, fast.

To address this crisis, we must act collaboratively to restore and reconnect essential habitat, remove invasive species, address diseases, reduce pollution and confront climate change. This sobering report is a clarion call for why we must take immediate action to prevent devastating costs for wildlife and human communities alike. Hundreds of species continue to slip through the cracks.

The good news is that there are actionable, bipartisan solutions. America has led the world in conserving large mammals and waterfowl, such as whitetail deer, pronghorn, elk, bighorn sheep, wild turkeys, mallards, wood ducks and a range of sportfish, as a result of the contributions of sportsmen and women through the payment of excise taxes and licenses.

We’ve also seen significant recovery of threatened and endangered species, including bald eagles, Yellowstone grizzlies and Louisiana black bears, manatees, lynx, southern sea otters, American alligators and brown pelicans.

The challenge is that while we have invested heavily in recovering the species that we hunt and fish — and iconic species that are threatened or endangered — we have failed to invest in the proactive, collaborative measures that would prevent thousands of other species from declining. It simply doesn’t make sense to wait until a species is on the brink of extinction before stepping in. It is better for wildlife, economy, taxpayers, and local communities — and much cheaper — when we recover at-risk wildlife before they need protections under the Endangered Species Act, some of which are expensive and restrictive measures that cause economic uncertainty.

A clear roadmap already exists for how to recover at-risk wildlife species. Congress already requires each state and territory to produce a Wildlife Action Plan that both assesses the health of fish and wildlife in their jurisdiction and identifies clear steps necessary to recover species in trouble. These plans — developed collaboratively with input from scientists, private landowners, government agencies, conservation groups, outdoor recreation community, and industries — provide the specific steps necessary to ensure the survival of the full diversity of our nation’s fish and wildlife.

The bipartisan Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, sponsored by Reps. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellNurses union lobbies Congress on health care bills during National Nurses Week OSHA sends draft emergency temporary standard for COVID-19 to OMB review Why the US needs a successful federal green bank MORE (D-Mich.), Jeff FortenberryJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FortenberryMarjorie Taylor Greene's delay tactics frustrate GOP Biden can build on Pope Francis's visit to Iraq McMorris Rodgers floats vacating Speaker's chair over Democrat's in-person vote after COVID diagnosis MORE (R-Neb.), and more than a hundred of their colleagues, would accelerate the recovery of more than 13,000 species of greatest conservation, including the more than 1,600 U.S. species listed under the Endangered Species Act. The legislation would catalyze proactive, on-the-ground, collaborative conservation of these species by providing of states, territories and tribes with the resources necessary to implement the strategies contained within the Wildlife Action Plans.

This bill is an important facet of the response necessary to address and reverse America’s wildlife crisis America. Congress must also ensure sufficient resources for federal agencies responsible for wildlife habitat. Congress should also support natural solutions, like restoration of forests, wetlands and grasslands, as part of an infrastructure package to both improve community resilience and increase carbon sinks. Lawmakers must also rise to meet the challenge of climate change.


The truth is: When we save wildlife, we save ourselves. When wildlife have clean water, so do we. Wetlands and natural systems make our cities and towns more resilient to extreme storms. Healthy forests are less prone to uncontrolled megafires. Keeping nature within reach helps our children — and future stewards of our planet — thrive in school and at home. 

In this era of divided government, conservation has repeatedly proven to be a rare area with potential for bipartisan cooperation. This has been demonstrated by the Fire Funding Fix, the America’s Water Infrastructure Act, Agriculture Improvement Act (farm bill), and the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act. Addressing America’s wildlife crisis will require that we summon the same level of bipartisanship — we have no choice but to succeed, because extinction is forever. 

Collin O’Mara is president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.