One day after President Obama rejected the Keystone tar-sands XL pipeline, a report released by a coalition of environmental and conservation groups lists what it believes, is the top ten U.S. species most at risk from fossil fuel consumption.
The report, called "Fueling Extinction: How Dirty Energy Drives Wildlife to the Brink" developed by the Endangered Species Coalition, slams fossil fuels as dirty and blames oil, gas and coal companies for pouring millions of dollars into campaign coffers and generating billions in profit.
"The American people are clearly getting the short end of the stick from the fossil fuel industry," the report said, "both in terms of jobs and in preserving our natural heritage." Worse, adds the coalition, this hunger for fossil fuels is "making it ever more difficult to keep our vow to protect America’s wildlife."
The top ten species included in the report, are particularly vulnerable to the pursuit of oil, gas and coal it said. Not just from the use of them, but also through the development, storage and transportation of them, which subsequently impact marine, flora and animal habitats.
The list itself is a varied one, affecting plants, birds, fish and mammals. The endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle for example, suffered the highest death toll in the 2010 BP oil spill claims the report, with "a total of 809 Kemp’s ridleys [...] impacted by the spill." Of that number, adds the coalition, "328 were harmed and 609 were killed."
United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS)
Already endangered, Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, have declined primarily due to human activities says report.
Listed as a threatened species since 1993, the Spectacled Eider, a species of duck, made the list because it has seen its habitat range shrink precisely because of oil and gas development. Today, only "3,000-4,000 nesting pairs remain" the report said.
Greg Balogh; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Diminishing habitat and fossil fuel extraction threaten the Spectacled Eider.
Bowhead whales which live off the Alaska coastline, are another endangered species that due to a long reproductive cycle and the manner in which it feeds, face threats from oil and gas development off Alaska's northern coast. Bowheads take in huge quantities of water and filter out their food, leaving them at great risk from oil spills.
The bowhead is insulated with nearly two feet of blubber enabling it to break through two feet of ice. It is particularly vulnerable to oil spills.
Greater sage-grouse are locally extinct from Nebraska, Arizona and British Columbia. Their range includes area of Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota and South Dakota, plus the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. With a remaining population of around 142,000, these grouse are dependent on sagebrush and thus most a risk from development, "urbanization, fences, pipelines and utility corridors," says the report.
Snowmanradio. Pacific Southwest Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The Greater Sage-Grouse is a "sensitive species" says the Endangered Species Coalition. It suffers from habitat loss and pipeline and utility corridors.
One plant made the list. The Graham's Penstemon, a lavender flower which occurs only in the Uinta Basin of eastern Utah and the very edge of northwestern Colorado. Its appearance only on oil shale soils, makes it particularly vulnerable to oil shale mining and processing.
The dunes sagebrush lizard in southeast New Mexico and western Texas, was proposed for listing as an endangered species in Dec. 2010. Dependent on one tree for survival, the shinnery oak , its range due to increasing oil wells is nearly half of what it was in 1982.
Gophers often get a bad rap, but the mysterious Wyoming pocket gopher faces extra challenges because of its secretive nature. Believed to occur exclusively in Wyoming, little is known about this animal and "since its discovery, in 1875" said the report, "fewer than 40 individuals have been scientifically documented." It is at risk said the coalition, because its numbers cannot be determined. Thus, it has not been afforded protection despite a consensus among government agencies, that the pocket gopher is in need of conservation action due to oil and gas development.
A subspecies of perch, the Kentucky arrow darter, is native to the creeks of the Kentucky River Basin. The coalition said this fish "is being buried and poisoned for cheap coal," the processes of which, fill in streams with mining waste and pollutes its waters with toxins.
In Eastern Tennessee, a freshwater mussel named the tan riffleshell is one of the most endangered species of mollusk in the U.S. According to the report, the mussel "may even be the only remaining representative of the genus subspecies E. florentina." Coal mining and ash has polluted the riffleshell's waters, leaving only one known reproducing population in Indian Creek, a tributary to the Clinch River in southwest Virginia. From a 2001 population census of the creek, around 2000 adults were thought to exist.
Despite conservation efforts and being awarded endangered species status in 1967, only 437 wild whooping cranes and 162 cranes exist in captivity today. Astounding, considering these birds live for more than 30 years. Hunting and habitat loss have decreased this bird's range, which once extended from the Arctic south to Mexico and from Utah to the East Coast. Now, just three wild crane populations are known to exist said the coalition – two migratory flocks, one in Canada which winters in Texas, another which migrates between Wisconsin and Florida, and a third non-migratory flock in Florida.
According to the coalition, the whooping crane would have been most at risk from the Keystone XL Pipeline.
One of the most commonly recognized species of animal deemed at risk in the U.S., is that of the polar bear. From climate change causing habitat loss, to existing and pending oil and gas development, the polar bear faces multiple threats. There would be "no way to clean up an oil spill in icy Arctic waters," said the coalition, and it could impact the bear in three ways: oil on its coat which would prevent the bear from regulating its temperature while grooming and its feeding on contaminated prey, could pose potential ingestion threats.
Polar bears face multiple risks said the coalition's report, from global warming, oil development and habitat loss.
The Endangered Species Coalition argues, "we should not sacrifice our irreplaceable natural resources in order to make politicians and oil companies rich." It will only be through investing "in sustainable energy production and practices" and moving away from fossil fuels that "our natural and wildlife legacy, and even our own health," will be protected.
The coalition comprises several member groups from across the U.S. including: Alaska Wilderness League; Biodiversity Conservation Alliance; Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife. The full report is available in PDF file at Fueling Extinction.org.