The "Extinction Prevention Act" Is Not Enough

The Human Population Needs To Be Stabilized in the U.S.

I’m a big fan of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In fact I wrote my PhD on an ESA issue — wolves at Isle Royale National Parkback in 1997. The Endangered Species Act has helped keep some species from being wiped out across the U.S.

In that vein, it was good to hear about the proposed “Extinction Prevention Act” recently introduced in Congress by U.S. Rep. Grijalva and U.S. Senator Blumenthal. The Extinction Prevention Act proposes to give more funding to species protection programs. This is good news because the ESA has been fiscally starved by past congresses and presidential administrations.

But the Extinction Prevention Act is not enough. Biodiversity is under assault across the U.S. as growth and development — mostly driven by human population growth — ravages and devours natural landscapes.

Scientists have been paying attention to this. As one example, the authors in the scientific journal, Issues In Ecology, (Winter 2016) stated:

"The ESA has not kept pace with rapid socioeconomic changes in the United States and advances in conservation science. Since 1973, the US population has grown by more than 50%, and gross domestic product has expanded from approximately $1.4 trillion to more than $16 trillion, resulting in multiple stressors to vulnerable species....the greatest threats to listed species are habitat loss and degradation.... Human population growth, economic activity, and intensive land uses have rapidly increased. Threats to listed species such as habitat loss and degradation and invasive exotic species have increased in severity. Climates have undergone fundamental change. These trends will likely continue."

Whether it’s puma in southern California, or grizzly bear in the Northern Rockies, human population growth is squeezing out the non-human world, invading its habitat, pushing it to the edge of extinction. In my local watersheds in northern Colorado, population growth is devouring landscapes, rivers, and wildlife habitat.

In 2019, the Center for American Progress reported“The United States is quietly losing its remaining forests, grasslands, deserts, and natural places at a blistering pace. Every 30 seconds, a football field worth of America’s natural areas disappears to roads, houses, pipelines, and other development.”

The U.S. House and President Biden have taken positive steps recently around protecting wildlife habitat with the 30x30 campaign that proposes to protect 30 percent of the U.S. landscape by the year 2030. At the very same time though, around 2 million more people are added to the U.S. population each year which creates a Los Angeles County-sized blob of urban sprawl — another 10 million people — on the U.S. landscape every 5 years.

It feels like one-step-forward, two-steps-back to me. We can spend more money trying to save species, and launch new programs to protect more critical wildlife habitat, but if we keep adding 2 million people to the U.S. every year, we’re going backwards in our conservation goals.

We need to stabilize the U.S. population if we are to have any chance of saving endangered species as well as the majority of the extraordinary, but extremely threatened, natural world around us.