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Texas Conservation Alliance aims to prevent further animal extinctions

Wikipedia/Public Domain
The now-extinct Ivory Billed Woodpecker

TPR's Jerry Clayton recently spoke with Janice Bezanson, senior policy director for the Texas Conservation Alliance about the extinction of species in the United States and Texas.

Jerry Clayton: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced that 23 species ranging from fish to birds are now extinct. Now, the agency is proposing delisting them from the Endangered Species Act. Two of the 23 species listed were in Texas. Here to talk about this is Janice Bezanson, senior policy director for the Texas Conservation Alliance. Thanks for being here, Janice.

Janice Bezanson: Well, I am delighted to be here.

Clayton: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has declared 23 species of animals extinct. Does that mean there's no hope for these species? Are they really gone forever?

Bezanson: That means that the best science indicates, yes, they are really gone forever.

Clayton: Let's talk about a couple of the species in Texas that were on the list. Why have they been declared extinct?

Bezanson: Well, efforts have been made to find them over a fairly long period of time in the case of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, literally decades since the early 1900’s. And they can't be found. And so the best science indicates that they are extinct.

Clayton: So they were on the endangered species list, but apparently that was not enough to just save them.

Bezanson: Well, by the time the endangered species list was created, the Ivory-billed was probably already gone. We just didn't know for sure. And I mean, this is a wonderful bird, beautiful black and white plumage, big, vivid, crimson colored crest on the male John James Audubon said the flight of this bird is graceful in the extreme. So it's a huge loss. But what we're really concerned about is all the species that are facing the same fate. For example, the Red Cockaded Woodpecker, which is in East Texas and all across the southwest, is facing the same problems the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker had. They need old growth forest. They need old pine trees to survive. We're used to being 90 million acres of longleaf pine habitat, their preferred habitat. Now there's only three percent of that left.

Clayton: People might say that animals have gone extinct all the time throughout history. Is this really a big deal if you take the emotion out of it all?

Bezanson: It really is a big deal. With or without the emotion, there have been five what are referred to as mass extinctions in history that were caused by three major things like an asteroid hitting the Earth, or enormous amounts of volcanic activity back in the Ordovician period, 433 billion years ago. But those kinds of events are not happening. What's happening is that people are behaving in a way that are leading toward what we hope will not be the sixth great extinction.

Clayton: As part of the Texas Conservation Alliance, what is your organization doing to prevent more species from going extinct?

Bezanson: There is a fabulous bill in Congress right now, both in the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate called the Recovering America's Wildlife Act. This bill would provide funding for some species of greatest conservation need. That's a phrase that's used for species that are not endangered yet, and we're trying to keep them from being endangered. It does also include some funding for endangered species, but it's primarily to keep species off the endangered species list.

Clayton: So if people want to get involved, what can they do?

Bezanson: They can contact their own member of the US House of Representatives and our two senators, Senator Cornyn and Senator Cruz, and ask them to be co-sponsors of the Recovering America's Wildlife Act.

Clayton: Janice, I really appreciate your time. Thank you so much for speaking with us today.

Bezanson: Thank you.

Jerry Clayton can be reached at jerry@tpr.org or on Twitter at @jerryclayton.