The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced on Monday that 21 species are being removed from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) because they are extinct.
According to an Oct. 16 press release, the majority of species on the list—which contains a mix of birds, fish, mussels, and mammal species—were initially listed under the ESA in the 1970s and 1980s, were in very low numbers, and were “likely already extinct” at the time of listing.
The species were part of a list proposed for delisting by the federal agency in September 2021. However, after public comment on the rule, the FWS withdrew the delisting proposal for one of the species: Phyllostegia glabra var. lanaiensi—a Hawaiian perennial herb in the mint family. The short-lived herb was scrapped from the list because surveys identified new and potentially suitable habitats for the plant to grow.
Although the ivory-billed woodpecker was also included in the agency’s original delisting proposal two years ago, wildlife officials said the red-crowned bird will remain on the list because the service will “continue to analyze and review the information before deciding whether to delist” the possibly extinct woodpecker native to the bottomland hardwood forests and temperate coniferous forests of the United States and Cuba.
Among the species now considered officially extinct are eight birds native to Hawaii, which are listed below.
- Kauai akialoa: Listed as endangered in 1967; last confirmed sighting was in the 1960s
- Kauai nukupuu: Listed as endangered in 1970; last confirmed sighting was in 1899
- Kauaʻi ʻōʻō: Listed as endangered in 1967; last confirmed sighting was in 1987
- Large Kauai thrush: Listed as endangered in 1970; last confirmed sighting was in 1987
- Maui ākepa: Listed as endangered in 1970; last confirmed sighting was in 1988
- Maui nukupuʻu: Listed as endangered in 1970; last confirmed sighting was in 1996
- Molokai creeper: Listed as endangered in 1970; last confirmed sighting was in 1963
- Po`ouli: Listed as endangered in 1975; last confirmed sighting was in 2004
“The Hawaiian birds declared extinct today are a case in point. Their forest habitats were razed by development and agriculture. The introduction to the islands of mosquitoes, which are not native and carry both avian pox and avian malaria, provided the nail in the coffin,” the Center for Biological Diversity, a non-profit organization known for its work to protect endangered species, said in a statement.
Another bird species considered officially extinct is the Bachman’s warbler, one of the rarest songbirds last seen in North America nearly 40 years ago. The bright yellow bird was once common in Florida and South Carolina.
The only mammal species on the list is the Little Mariana fruit bat, a small fruit bat found in Guam. Also on the list are seven mussels found in Alabama as well as two fish species found in Texas and Ohio.
“Federal protection came too late to reverse these species’ decline, and it’s a wake-up call on the importance of conserving imperiled species before it’s too late,” FWS Director Martha Williams said on Monday. “As we commemorate 50 years of the Endangered Species Act this year, we are reminded of the Act’s purpose to be a safety net that stops the journey toward extinction. The ultimate goal is to recover these species, so they no longer need the Act’s protection.”
The ESA is a federal act signed into law by former President Richard Nixon in 1973. Since its adoption, the law has provided a framework to conserve and protect plants and animals considered threatened or endangered both domestically and abroad.
According to the FWS’s news release, the ESA has been “highly effective” and is credited with saving 99 percent of species listed as threatened or endangered.
“Thus far, more than 100 species of plants and animals have been delisted based on recovery or reclassified from endangered to threatened based on improved conservation status, and hundreds more species are stable or improving thanks to the collaborative actions of Tribes, federal agencies, state and local governments, conservation organizations and private citizens,” wildlife officials said, per the release.