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Protecting Our Habitats and Endangered Species

Updated: Mar 15

American wildlife face numerous threats. We need to act now.


Big Picture


Deforestation, urbanization and climate change are tremendous threats to American wildlife. While America’s various ecosystems provide more than $29 trillion in economic capital, biodiversity is rapidly decreasing. It is time to protect these habitats to ensure that plants and animals thrive.


  • Graphic From: “Our Biosphere in Peril: 50% Decline in Wildlife Populations.” Public Citizen. 2 Oct. 2014. This figure illustrates the major contributors - many caused by humans - to the decline in population of over 3,400 species since 1970.


Operative Definitions


  1. Urban sprawl: Per Britannica, the rapid expansion “of cities and towns, often characterized by low-density residential housing, single-use zoning and increased reliance on the private automobile for transportation.”

  2. Biomimetic: According to Biomimicry NL, this term can be defined as “an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies.”

  3. New Urbanism: As defined by the Congress for the New Urbanism, “New urbanism is a planning and development approach based on the principles of how cities and towns were built for the last several centuries: walkable blocks and streets, housing and shopping nearby, and accessible public spaces.”

  4. Light pollution: According to an article from the Resource Library of the National Geographic Society, this term refers to “the excessive or inappropriate use of outdoor artificial light.”

  5. Green infrastructure: A biomimetic approach to infrastructure. Networks inspired by nature and the natural water cycle. Rain gardens, green roofs, trees and parks absorb water back into the Earth rather than transporting it through gray infrastructure (dams, seawalls, roads, pipes or water treatment plants). By utilizing green infrastructure, cities will be better equipped to handle extreme weather events.

  6. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973: The primary law in the U.S. protecting domestic and international wildlife. As explained by the World Wildlife Fund, the law gives individuals and organizations alike the power to request a species be recognized as endangered.

  7. Fracking: Drilling techniques used to extract natural gas from bedrock. Can pollute groundwater and air.

  8. Marine Catch Share System: A regulatory system in which a certain portion or share of fish collected by a fishery is given to individual fishermen or fishing communities.


Important Facts and Statistics


  1. Forty-two percent of endangered species are at risk because of invasive species. These non-native species can drastically alter an ecosystem’s balance and cost the U.S. over $1 billion each year in damages.

  2. As of March 2021, over 1,200 species in America are listed as endangered.


Six-Point Plan


(1) Reduce the negative environmental impacts of cities. 

Address urban sprawl through New Urbanism in city planning. Invest in public infrastructure, such as trees and parklets, with habitat conservation and efficient land use in mind. Introduce green infrastructure by applying natural water management practices that improve water quality without costly treatment plants. Through increased water storage, green infrastructure would help mitigate the effects of climate change. Minimize light pollution in cities through local lighting ordinances. Localities can establish lighting zones and curfews and invest in outdoor lighting that is less disruptive and more energy efficient. These ordinances will result in financial savings, improved public safety (for example, reduced glare will decrease car accident incidences) and healthier ecosystems.


(2) Incentivize landowners to make sustainable decisions. 

Provide small property tax breaks to landowners growing resilient native plants for small businesses. Furthermore, educate homeowners to shift towards non-toxic alternatives to pesticides, including insecticidal soaps and plant-based horticultural oils. Consolidate landowner compensation programs for protecting endangered species into one state initiative. Programs include the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which incentivize landowner action. Merge these with environmental groups’ efforts into a fund for purchasing habitats from landowners.


(3) Regulate and monitor land use and development. 

Implement wildlife-friendly zoning regulations. Reduce the effects of habitat fragmentation by requiring buffer zones around land desirable for development and adding zoning areas for wildlife. Local and state governments will sell vacant public land to wildlife conservation organizations for habitat preservation. Enact stronger hydraulic fracturing (fracking) regulations, including bi-annual inspections of sites. Inspection results will require publication for the public to increase transparency. Invest in research and sustainable energy development in communities, especially in areas where fossil fuel development occurs.


(4) Revise the Marine Catch Share system to be more equitable. 

Reform and promote the Marine Catch Share system, which uses shares to determine who receives fishing privileges in an area. Currently, small fishermen are allotted few shares, resulting in job losses. While the system itself has improved fisheries and marine ecosystem safety, it must designate areas for the public and for small fishermen to ensure equity. 


(5) Strengthen the Endangered Species Act of 1973. 

The ESA has been criticized for being insufficiently flexible and cost-effective. Reform it by increasing states’ roles in recovering species by applying market-based approaches to private conservation and expanding universal regulations. This entails establishing public funds to reward sustainable practices or private funds to pay landowners who manage their land in ways that maximize ecosystem services. Assigning economic value to ecosystem services is another way to reward responsible land management.


(6) Establish long-term environmental projects in rural and urban schools. 

As most Americans live in cities, there is a growing disconnect between students and the surrounding nature. The disconnect that exists in rural school districts must be considered as well. Environmentally engaged students are more likely to actively preserve their environment. Projects should engage students in the nature that cities have to offer, potentially highlighting aspects of nature like wildlife, water runoff or park rehabilitation. An allocation of funding from the state government will help the success of this endeavor. Schools will collaborate with local nature clubs, environmental awareness organizations like the Boy and Girl Scouts of America or the Sierra Club, and museums or parks departments on projects.


Why This Initiative Is Important


This proposal addresses the major challenges faced by American wildlife and offers comprehensive protection guidelines. By highlighting the importance of educational programs and developmental flaws, this proposal supports wildlife conservation through awareness and actionable change. Prioritizing conservation through market-based and property-rights-based initiatives gives landowners, fishermen and farmers significant economic incentives to conserve the environment. This plan satisfies the conservation interests of most Americans, addressing key issues in wildlife conservation such as endangered species, fracking and habitat fragmentation.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual authors.


Acknowledgments


The following student(s) worked on this nonpartisan proposal: Pragya Jain, American University; Ellery Saluck, Washington University in St. Louis; Marianne Swan, State University of New York College at Oneonta; Yoni Ferbank, Syracuse University; Gabby Ostrov, University of Vermont.


The following individuals worked with our student interns and contributed expertise, wisdom and moral support to the development of this proposal:


  1. Jonathan Wood: Senior Attorney, Pacific Legal Foundation. Washington, DC.

  2. Anjali Tripathi: Research associate, Center for Astrophysics, Harvard-Smithsonian. Los Angeles, CA.

  3. Andrea K.I. Hall: Quality Control, Compliance, and Sustainability Coordinator in the canned seafood sector, Sausalito, CA


Note: Not all participants agree with every aspect of this proposal.


Sources


“Biomimicry - Innovation Inspired by Nature.” BiomimicryNL, Biomimicry Institute, https://www.biomimicrynl.org/english.html


“CNU 28 About the Congress.” Congress for the New Urbanism, Congress for the New Urbanism, https://www.cnu.org/cnu28/about.


“Invasive Species.” The National Wildlife Federation, 9 Jun. 2022, www.nwf.org/EducationalResources/Wildlife-Guide/Threats-to-Wildlife/Invasive Species.


National Geographic Society. “Light Pollution.” National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society, https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/light-pollution.


Smitley, David, et al. “How to control invasive pests while protecting pollinators and other beneficial insects.” Michigan State University Extension, 1 May 2019, https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/how-to-control-invasive-pests-while-protectingpollinators-and-other-beneficial-insects.


“The US Endangered Species Act.” World Wildlife Fund, World Wildlife Fund, https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/the-us-endangered-species-act.


Toothman, Jessika. “How Light Pollution Works.” HowStuffWorks 9 Jun. 2022, https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/lightpollution.htm#pt1.


“We Could Do a Lot More to Regulate Fracking.” Natural Resources Defense Council, 18 Jul. 2018.= www.nrdc.org/stories/we-could-do-lot-more-regulate-fracking

“Wildlife Habitat Fragmentation.” The Wildlife Society, May 2014, wildlife.org/wpcontent/uploads/2014/05/Wildlife-Habitat-Fragmentation.pdf.

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