News > News > Riverkeeper > New York Urged to Protect Gray Wolves, Hellbenders, Eels

New York Urged to Protect Gray Wolves, Hellbenders, Eels

ALBANY, N.Y.— The Center for Biological Diversity, Hudson Riverkeeper, New York City Audubon and species experts submitted comments today supporting the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s proposal to revise its list of endangered, threatened and special-concern species. The proposed list will provide new or strengthened protections for 46 species.

But the Center expressed concern over the state agency’s decision to strip protection from gray wolves, which could harm efforts to restore the animals to the state. And each conservation group was also critical of the decision to provide limited protection — or none at all — to several other species.

“We’re glad New York is moving to protect some imperiled species, but ending wolf safeguards hurts efforts to recover them, and other animals need stronger action,” said Elise Bennett, a staff attorney at the Center. “Wolves aren’t ready to lose protection, and state officials should recognize species like the eastern hellbender salamander and Atlantic Coast leopard frog as endangered.”

Although gray wolves were exterminated from New York more than a century ago, there is abundant habitat for wolf recovery throughout the state.

Under the state’s proposed revisions, the eastern hellbender salamander would be added to the list of threatened species and the Atlantic Coast leopard frog to the list of species of special concern, which provides no real protections. These amphibians have experienced dramatic declines in New York, due in part to loss and degradation of freshwater habitat. They need endangered status, conservationists said.

“For species like the American eel, which were once exceedingly abundant, declines beyond a certain tipping point could steer populations toward collapse and extinction long before the last of its kind is lost,” said Dr. George Jackman, senior habitat restoration manager at Hudson Riverkeeper. “It is by our hand these species have been so egregiously harmed, and it will be by our hand that they recover.”

The agency proposed special concern status for the American eel and no protections for the American shad. Riverkeeper is asking the agency to designate American eel as threatened, and American shad as a species of concern.

Over the next several months, the state DEC plans to review public comments, conduct further investigation and present a revised plan to the public.

Last year the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, known as IPBES, warned governments around the world that 1 million species are now at risk of extinction because of human activity. The UN scientists said urgent actions are needed to avert mass extinction in the coming decades.

Earlier this month the Center launched its Saving Life on Earth campaign, calling on the United States to invest $100 billion to save species and fund the creation of 500 new national parks, wildlife refuges and marine sanctuaries.

Meanwhile, under the Trump administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has protected only 21 species under the federal Endangered Species Act — fewer than any other administration at the same point in the presidential term. At the same time, it has denied protections to dozens of species in need of protection, including the fully aquatic eastern hellbender salamander.

Amphibians are the most imperiled group of animals on the planet. The eastern hellbender is severely declining across its range and in New York, with studies documenting declines in the state. The Atlantic Coast leopard frog, a species relatively new to science, exists in fewer than 10 known populations and is considered extinct in Long Island due to declines in ephemeral wet-meadow habitat.

Freshwater species are going extinct more rapidly than terrestrial or marine species, with almost a third of freshwater biodiversity on the planet facing extinction, largely due to habitat loss, invasive species, pollution and overharvest.

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