One million animal and plant species are on the verge of extinction, according to a United Nations report released in May, and we humans bear much of the blame. Climate change, overfishing, pollution, and urban expansion are all threatening Earth’s biodiversity, and with it our own food security, health, and quality of life, according to the UN’s Global Environment Outlook.
These global concerns reach right into the mountains and waters of AMC’s region, where some local flora and fauna are struggling to adapt to a changing world. AMC has been tracking the effects of a changing climate in the White Mountains since the 1930s—notably, warmer and shorter winters, reduced snowfall, and hotter summers. Collectively, these shifts threaten iconic Northern species, such as moose and brook trout, according to Dave Publicover, AMC’s assistant director of research.
“The pace of climate change and the fragmentation of the landscape due to development is reducing the ability of species to migrate to more suitable habitats,” he says.
Meanwhile, as this issue of AMC Outdoors was going to press, the Department of the Interior announced revisions to the Endangered Species Act, weakening how it is applied, critics say.
Here’s a look at a few of the other threatened and endangered species in our own backyard, according to the UN study.
NOTE: “Endangered” species are at the brink of extinction in most or all of their habitat range. “Threatened” species are likely to become endangered soon. Both endangered and threatened species are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973.
NORTHERN LONG-EARED BAT
The northern long-eared bat, with a range stretching from Maine to South Carolina and as far west as Montana, has been listed as threatened since 2015 under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Since 2006, when symptoms of white-nose syndrome were first observed in bats in New York, the population has declined by up to 99 percent in the Northeast, according to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The bats, which play a key role in ecosystems by eating lots of bugs, are also threatened by wind turbines.
The roseate tern, a seabird whose plumage was prized for fashionable hats before the species bounced back under 20th century protections, has been listed as endangered in the Northeast since 1987. Its habitat—small barrier islands—has been dramatically reduced by development and erosion as a result of rising sea levels, according to USFWS. It also must compete for food and nesting sites with large gulls, whose numbers have ballooned near human populations, in part due to the increasing availability of food waste in cities.
The bog turtle, which is only about 4 inches long, has been designated threatened since 1997. It relies on diverse wetland habitats and is found from Massachusetts and New York south to Maryland. Over the past 30 years, the bog turtle has disappeared from more than 50 percent of the wetlands it once inhabited, largely due to development and illegal collection for the pet trade, according to USFWS.
Atlantic salmon in the Gulf of Maine, from Cape Cod to southern Canada, have been endangered since 2000. These salmon return to fresh water to reproduce, so rivers, streams, and lakes in coastal watersheds provide critical habitat. Their numbers have been reduced by overfishing; the introduction of non-native species, such as smallmouth bass, which feed on salmon fry; and the installation of dams and culverts that block passage to spawning grounds. (Read about AMC’s culvert removal work.)
Swamp pink, a member of the lily family that can grow more than 3 feet tall, was first designated a threatened species in 1988. Native to wetlands, its range stretches from New Jersey south to Georgia but is threatened by changes in groundwater brought on by construction projects, draining, flooding, and runoff, according to USFWS. Climate change and the introduction of invasive species also have cut its numbers.
RUSTY PATCHED BUMBLEBEE
Once common in 28 states, the rusty patched bumblebee was listed as endangered in 2017 and is now found in just 12 states, including Maine and Maryland—a 91 percent decline since the 1990s. Much of its grassland and tallgrass prairie habitat has been lost to farms, towns, and roads, and pesticides and climate change may be hastening its decline. As pollinators, bumblebees help plants, such as blueberries and tomatoes, reproduce.