After a year of frightening headlines, here’s one more: Wild populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have plummeted 68% since 1970. It’s a harrowing statistic, but I am proud to say that one of our own Colorado representatives recently took the initiative to combat tragic species loss for current and future generations by proposing a National Biodiversity Strategy. On Dec. 2, Colorado’s Rep. Joe Neguse, Rep. Alan Lowenthal of California, and the chair of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife, Rep. Jared Huffman, also of California, delivered an urgent resolution on behalf of our nation’s biodiversity. The resolution is expected to be reintroduced early in this congressional session.
Neguse serves as a vital voice of reason among a Congress that scarcely, if ever, discusses conservation targets. The United States is not a member of the Convention on Biological Diversity, nor does it issue a national biodiversity outlook, as do many other countries. In the spirit of holiday gratitude, I want to extend my sincere thanks to Rep. Neguse for addressing the issues most pertinent to my generation of deeply concerned young citizens.
While I’ve long been keenly aware of the dire threat that biodiversity decline poses, this year brought the seriousness of species collapse to the forefront. The COVID-19 pandemic, a direct consequence of habitat and biodiversity loss, reminded us of the implications of reckless environmental destruction. Then, while running the Colorado Trail this September, I experienced a biological apocalypse. As I ran, dead insectivorous birds littered the trail — swallows, warblers and flycatchers. Birds were falling out of the sky. The phenomenon was reported across the greater Southwest — millions of birds are dying right here in our Colorado backyards. According to scientists, a combination of long-term insect population decline, record-breaking wildfires, and an unprecedented early drop in temperatures contributed to the mass starvation and die-off of millions of migratory birds.
After this profoundly saddening outing, the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity released a report declaring that participating countries met none of the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets in 2020. The Aichi Targets, devised in 2010, include reducing subsidies harmful to biodiversity and reducing habitat destruction by at least a half. None of the 168 countries involved in the agreement fully met a biodiversity goal during the last decade. 2010-2020 was considered a critical decade for slowing biodiversity loss; governments, including our own, catastrophically failed to deliver.
While the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) has been 99% effective at preserving our nation’s wildlife, the act has been under constant assault. In its final weeks, the Trump Administration declared that only areas that could “currently support” endangered species would be protected, a devastating blow to species among a litany of other recent ESA rollbacks.
Neguse’s legislation, supported by dozens of conservation groups and leading scientists, is a critical call for interagency strategy addressing the climate and biodiversity crises. The resolution also calls for agencies to review existing legislation and consider new actions, ensures equitable access to nature, and establishes a novel quadrennial biodiversity assessment. Early in 2020, alongside four other representatives, Neguse also introduced the Thirty by Thirty Resolution to Save Nature. This resolution calls for 30% of United States lands and waters to be protected for biodiversity by 2030, the establishment of corridors for climate-affected species, the development of renewable energies, and increased conservation efforts in collaboration with state and Tribal governments.
By ensuring protection for endangered species, controlling invasive species, preserving public lands, and reducing pesticide pollution — among other commendable actions — Neguse serves as a crucial, rare voice for the half a million insects, 1 in 3 freshwater species, and 1 in 5 plant species faced with extinction. We have been warned, and the threat is real and apparent. Neguse not only represents the citizens of our nation, but the myriad flora and fauna upon which we depend for our livelihoods and wellbeing. Thank you, Representative Neguse, for ensuring the ongoing health of our nation’s unique endowment — vast public lands, bustling with life — which I very much hope my children will someday be able to relish.
Please, if you share my sentiments, encourage your member of Congress to cosponsor this legislation.