The takeaway message:

What would happen if the protection of imperiled species fell to individual states? Worried about the uncertainty of the Endangered Species Act, researchers look to answer this question. Meanwhile, Florida’s at-risk species face their own challenges.

What’s going on?

The Endangered Species Act, commonly known as ESA, became federal law in 1973, creating a program that protects threatened and endangered plant and animal species and their habitats. Going on 47 years, it currently protects 2,686 species nationwide — and 133 specifically in Florida.

In August, the Trump Administration made revisions to the act that scientists suggest weaken the existing protections.  In response, researchers at the University of Miami posed the question, “What would happen if the ESA were repealed and the protection of imperiled species fell to individual states?”

Their answers were concerning. Because 68% of imperiled species aren’t safeguarded by state laws, more than 1,000 ESA-protected species nationwide could be vulnerable if the federal law was overturned.

The study also found that “Republican‐leaning states protected significantly fewer species than Democratic‐leaning states, and states with higher population densities protected more species.” On average for each state, 37% of federally listed species are not protected by local laws. Fortunately, Florida state laws protect 93% of the species on the ESA list, the researchers found.

Across the state, Florida’s at-risk species are dealing with various challenges depending on their location. For example, new toll road plans throughout Central Florida threaten the 120 to 130 Florida panthers left in the wild.

“Essentially the toll roads will act as a catalyst to accelerate the transport of humans into south Florida and accelerate the rate of development and the loss of habitat,” wildlife ecologist Randy Kautz said in the most recent toll road task force meeting, as reported by the Naples Daily News.

In South Florida, plans for a hotel and water park would creep in on habitat for one of the country’s most endangered bats, the Florida bonneted bat. The development cleared its final hurdle when its lease was approved by Miami-Dade’s county commissioners, the Miami Herald reports.  And the Eastern black rail, a recently ESA-declared threatened bird species, faces coastal habitat loss due to sea level rise. Its populations have declined more than 75% over the last two decades.

Why it matters.

Biodiversity, or the variety of life on Earth, is important to sustaining life itself.

Protecting at-risk plants and animals helps maintain the biodiversity in ecosystems that keeps the environment healthy and thriving. But protecting at-risk species cannot be done without protecting their natural habitats, too. As recently as 2015, Florida had 10 million acres of protected public and private lands. This amounts to 29% of the state’s land area. Hundreds of thousands of acres of land are protected by 29 national wildlife refuges; three national forests cover 1.2 million acres and are home to nearly 200 at-risk species; and 161 state parks cover more than 800,000 acres, according to an analysis by the Florida Climate Institute.

But as Florida’s population is projected to swell to 33.7 million by 2070, this growth puts existing natural lands in peril. The total area of natural lands in danger of being transformed by urban development is equal to the size of Vermont, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission — amounting to 7 million acres of land. As these natural lands shrink, so do the populations of their inhabitants. Thus, the protection of Florida’s valuable wild spaces is also crucial to protecting at-risk plant and animal species.

What can I do? 

Learn more: 

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