Biodiversity means a wolf pack inhabiting the farthest corner of Yellowstone National Park—and it also means the cardinal at your backyard feeder and the butterfly at your local park. Each species is important as each is a part of larger natural systems that we all rely on.
And today, our remaining biodiversity is increasingly threatened.
Recent scientific evidence suggests that around 1 million species are already threatened with extinction, and that nearly 40 percent of all species on Earth will be or could be at risk of extinction by the year 2100. Even many species that are not yet on the brink of extinction have suffered huge population declines. For example, wild bird populations in the United States and Canada have declined by almost 30 percent over the past half century – a loss totaling a staggering 2.9 billion breeding adult birds. In concrete terms, this means that in 1970 there were three for every two red-winged blackbirds whose song marks the beginning of spring today.
The root causes of many of these losses have been known for decades but have accelerated in recent years: habitat destruction; pollution of land, air and water; and over-exploitation of wild animals for food and other purposes. But now climate change is adding new threats and exacerbating longstanding problems by altering ecosystems, drying up lakes and streams, and warming the oceans. Other recent developments also bring new threats: plastic pollution in the sea has increased tenfold since 1980, invasive species are increasingly threatening the natural environment, and urban areas have doubled in size since 1992.
These forces threaten to unravel the web of life that feeds so many species on this planet – including ourselves. The same natural systems that allow other living beings to live also allow humans to live. Natural systems filter pollutants to provide clean air and water, protect soil quality, and pollinate agriculture and control pests. The biodiversity produced by these systems provides us with food and medicine. Natural processes help mitigate climate change as more than half of all human-caused carbon emissions are absorbed by natural systems, which include old growth and old growth forests among others. And a diverse and thriving nature enriches our lives: Scientific studies have correlated time spent in nature with reduced blood pressure and stress levels, better immune function and improved sleep.
For all these reasons, we are not just observers of the declining biodiversity around us. Our own future is inextricably linked to the health of the planet we live on and the health of the other creatures with whom we share it.
At Earthjustice, we’re working harder than ever to secure that future. Since our foundation more than 50 years ago, we have been fighting to protect biodiversity. But today, given the magnitude of the current biodiversity crisis, we are stepping up our efforts. In July 2021, we launched a new biodiversity conservation program to expand this branch of our work to new regions and thematic areas. In the first year of the programme, we have addressed important emerging biodiversity issues, including:
- Fighting Florida’s water pollution that is wiping out food sources for that state’s beloved manatees, leading to an unprecedented death of more than a thousand manatees in 2021 and 2022 from starvation. At stake is the health of Florida’s Indian River Lagoon, the most biodiverse estuarine environment in North America and a home to manatees and countless other species, including half of the fish caught in east Florida annually.
- Advocate for wolf populations that promote biodiversity by keeping ecosystems balanced through healthy predator-prey interactions. We have partnered with Wisconsin’s Ojibwe tribes to oppose that state’s illegal wolf-hunting plans, defeated the Trump administration’s efforts to end federal protections for gray wolves in most of the lower 48 states, and renewed efforts to to reform the government’s stalled Mexican gray wolf recovery program in Arizona and New Mexico.
- Against new fishing permits for horseshoe crabs that would further deplete the biodiversity of the Delaware Bay, where the crab eggs provide a globally important stopover for migratory birds. The loss of this critical food source would threaten migratory bird species that travel from the southern tip of South America to their Arctic nesting grounds each spring, and would also further decimate fish and other wildlife that depend on eggs from the Delaware Bay horseshoe crab population for essential nutrition.
As these examples illustrate, sustaining a world teeming with diverse and beautiful creatures means protecting and restoring clean water, preserving natural systems, and making room for all species to find sufficient food and a place to live. Wild creatures need these things, but so do we. By preserving biodiversity, we are ultimately preserving ourselves.