The Gulf sturgeon lives in the northern Gulf of Mexico, bays, estuaries and in major rivers in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. The gulf sturgeon spends most of the year in freshwater, where it reproduces, and migrates to saltwater in the fall. (Ryan Hagerty, USFWS)
Almost 700 plant and animal species in Louisiana are in need of protection, between dwindling habitats and weather events like hurricanes changing, according to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
Louisiana has 21 species currently listed federally as threatened or endangered, including the Louisiana pearlshell, Gulf sturgeon and Louisiana pinesnake. The Pearl River Map Turtle is currently a candidate for the list, with its place decided this fall.
Tierra Curry, Saving Life on Earth Campaign Director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the Louisiana pearlshell has been listed since 1988. The pinesnake made the federal list in 2018, though it was first listed as a candidate in 1982. While the state has successfully recovered a few species, like the Brown Pelican and the Bald Eagle, increasing hurricane intensity and private land ownership make conservation an uphill battle.
Curry said the main issue with conservation comes down to money–at federal and state levels, funding is hard to get.
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“They’re cash-strapped,” Curry said. “We’re in the middle of an extinction crisis and they don’t have the budget they need to list all of the species that need to be listed under the endangered species act or to take actions to recover the species that are already listed.”
Curry believes that the public is increasingly aware of the need for change.
“You can just look around the country and look at the flooding and the hurricanes and the winter storms and the wind storms and the forest fires. Almost everyone is aware now that catastrophic events are happening because of climate change and I think the awareness of extinction is also increasing,” Curry said.
She’s hopeful that the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act will create fundamental change. The bipartisan act, which is currently making its way through congress, would provide funding to conserve fish and wildlife.
The act would grant funding for at-risk wildlife and plant species by funding state wildlife conservation strategies, wildlife conservation education projects, and giving grants for species recovery efforts. The bill was first introduced in April by Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan. While subcommittee hearings have been held, there’s been no action on the bill since July.
Rebecca Triche, Louisiana Wildlife Federation’s executive director, is also watching the act. Triche cited the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker as a warning– the bird was declared extinct in September, though some Louisianians claim to have seen it in recent years.
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“It’s extinction is related to habitat change. It needs old growth dead trees to survive and a lot of our land management practices have reduced that habitat at a key time,” Triche said. “The hopes that people who had heard or seen that particular bird never really panned out.”
“At the end of the day, you need financial resources to track this kind of conservation management. You need experienced biologists on the ground, educators who can talk to people about what’s needed, you need opportunities to partner in land conservation efforts.”
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