(CN) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Wednesday that 23 species are extinct and should be removed from the endangered species list because no one has seen them for decades.
The Biden administration laid the blame on human activity.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said the removal of the extinct species — many of which vanished before the enactment of endangered species protections in 1973 — demonstrates the need to strengthen current protections and combat present threats to the environment like climate change.
“With climate change and natural area loss pushing more and more species to the brink, now is the time to lift up proactive, collaborative, and innovative efforts to save America’s wildlife,” Haaland said. “The Endangered Species Act has been incredibly effective at preventing species from going extinct and has also inspired action to conserve at-risk species and their habitat before they need to be listed as endangered or threatened.”
The 23 species declared extinct by Fish and Wildlife include the ivory-billed woodpecker and the Bachman’s warbler, two formerly iconic North American bird species. In all, 11 birds, one bat, one plant, two fish and eight types of freshwater mussels made the extinction list.
The ivory-billed woodpecker is the most well-known of all of them, as unconfirmed sightings in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and other southern states have kept attention on the species.
John Fitzpatrick, an ornithologist with Cornell University, wrote a study in 2005 that said the woodpecker has a small extant population in Arkansas and that removing it from the endangered species list is counterproductive, perhaps allowing for further ravaging of the South’s forests where the bird once flourished.
“A bird this iconic, and this representative of the major old-growth forests of the Southeast, keeping it on the list of endangered species keeps attention on it, keeps states thinking about managing habitat on the off chance it still exists,” Fitzpatrick told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the most widely recognized international organization dedicated to the preservation of wildlife, said Wednesday that it will not place the ivory-billed woodpecker on its extinction list due to the chance it could still exist in Cuba.
But Fish and Wildlife said there is no evidence the bird still exists. The last universally accepted sighting of the bird occurred in 1944 and the Cuban subspecies hasn’t been seen since 1987.
The species is thought to have been driven to extinction by heavy logging in the southern forests combined with hunting by collectors in the early 20th century.
Wednesday’s announcement by Fish and Wildlife is rare. To date, only 11 species have been removed from the endangered species list since it was created in 1973. Many of the species removed Wednesday were already fading from existence when the Endangered Species Act was signed into law.
Haaland made sure to tout the Biden administration’s initiative “America the Beautiful,” a push to conserve, connect and restore 30% of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030 while attempting to preserve and enhance biodiversity.
“The service is actively engaged with diverse partners across the country to prevent further extinctions, recover listed species and prevent the need for federal protections in the first place,” said Martha Williams, Fish and Wildlife’s principal deputy director, in a statement.