Hundreds of species of plants and animals have been waiting literally decades to even be considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Thankfully, that's about to change.
That guy up there is a Kittlitz's murrelet, a small bird in the auk family native to the rocky southern coast of
from Anchorage out to the Aleutian Islands, and
also along the coast on the Russian side of the Bering Sea.
It's one of about 25,000 Kittlitz's murrelets in the world, we think. The
species has had a very difficult time in the past few decades; it's dependent
on glaciers, which are melting due to global warming, for one thing. It's
estimated that the Exxon Valdez oil spill back in 1989 killed as many as 10
percent of the global population. Its population has been rapidly, disastrously
The Endangered Species Act, signed into law in 1973 by President Nixon, is designed to protect animals just like Kittlitz's murrelet. The law has had some success; several species, including the bald eagle, grey wolf, and whooping crane, have all come back from the brink of extinction thanks to the Endangered Species Act. But the Kittlitz's murrelet isn't on that list, because it's not officially a protected species. Instead, it's been a candidate for consideration...since 1994.
While the Kittlitz's murrelet has sat on the candidate list, waiting to be considered for federal protection, its population has decreased by an estimated 80 to 90 percent.
And it's just one of several hundred species that have sat on the wildly backlogged candidate list. The Dakota skipper butterfly has been on the candidate list since 1975. It's now extinct in Indiana and
The eastern massasauga rattlesnake has been a candidate since 1982. The list goes on, for hundreds of species of birds,
reptiles, plants, insects, and every other corner of the natural world. Iowa
The problem of the backlog isn't due to a single cause; the individual departments in the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tasked with doing this kind of work are extremely underfunded. Sometimes they have to choose between spending money to protect species that are on the list, or deciding whether to go into the backlog and add new species--and choose the former. Management issues have plagued the efforts; during President Bush (43)'s two terms, control of the program was taken away from the department heads and given to political appointees. Pressure from lobbyists, especially from the oil industry, has also slowed the program's progress.