Government Shutdown Could Hamper Vital Work for Imperiled Wildlife Species

The government shutdown could be a big setback for vulnerable wildlife species in the US. Not only will the critical activities of federal natural resource agencies come to a halt, but much of the work of ARC and other partner organizations also won’t be possible. Unfortunately, some of our critically imperiled focal species can’t afford for us to miss the window to implement the efforts they need, which are often seasonal and time-sensitive. 

“When National Forests, Wildlife Refuges, Parks, and other public lands are forced to close, and their employees are furloughed, it hampers our ability to carry out targeted conservation efforts for species that are already running out of time,” ARC Executive Director JJ Apodaca explained. “And timing is key for many of these efforts, such as the protection of the seasonal breeding and egg-laying sites of a federally-listed salamander.”

We partner closely with federal agencies on our large-scale conservation efforts. More than 80% of ARC’s targeted actions for imperiled species are currently taking place on public lands. Our national strategy is implemented in hundreds of locations across the US called Priority Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Areas, or PARCAs

We selected the 317 PARCAs identified to date because they are critical strongholds for threatened and endangered amphibians and reptiles, one of the most vulnerable groups of vertebrates in the US. Since wildlife species do not confine their ranges to boundaries on maps, PARCAs incorporate both public and private lands, including National Forests, Bureau of Land Management land, and agricultural lands.

“The government shutdown reduces our ability to coordinate with and access many of the federal lands that house several of our high-priority species, ones that are most critically imperiled, and they may not have another year for delayed conservation action,” said ARC National Programs Coordinator José Garrido.

Case in point, ARC’s work in the Francis Marion PARCA in South Carolina takes place nearly entirely on National Forest land. In a crucial program here, we’re partnering with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, and other agencies and entities to work to save the state-listed endangered gopher frog.

In this program, the frogs are headstarted, which means that ARC biologists collect gopher frog eggs from temporary wetlands in the National Forest and take them to a National Fish Hatchery where they’re hatched and reared until they metamorphose (change) into frogs. Then, the young frogs are released back into the wild. Raising them past their most vulnerable stages gives them a greater chance at survival. However, during the shutdown, our field biologists are not able to collect eggs. Plus, a prolonged shutdown could result in the cessation of certain nonessential operations at the National Fish Hatchery, which may affect efforts for gopher frogs.

Not only are targeted actions at risk of being affected, but the scientific research needed for effective species conservation is as well. “We rely on long-term species monitoring datasets to inform our conservation actions,” said Apodaca. “If data collection is interrupted, the quality of our data could be undermined, and the creation of the models and other data-based tools we need will be delayed or, worse, we could miss out entirely on time-sensitive data during important seasonal events.”

Plus, the vast and vital work of federal agencies for wildlife conservation is halted, including for the more than 1,300 species protected under the Endangered Species Act and the many more awaiting decisions on listing. ARC Director of Private Lands and Policy Kat Diersen said, “Not only will sensitive species face increased risk of harm and habitat degradation in the absence of oversight from federal land managers and enforcement staff, they will also suffer from the disruption of programs and policy work aimed at restoring and protecting their populations.”

The suspension of government programs, together with the postponement of the efforts of partner organizations like ARC, could be a big setback for at-risk species. “A large number of imperiled species are barely hanging on,” said Apodaca. “The length of this possible shutdown could mean the difference between some of these species being given their best chance to persist into the future — or not.”

During these times, ARC’s work is especially important. Will you help support our national strategy, implemented locally, for amphibians and reptiles?