The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Wednesday that 23 species would now be considered extinct, after a yearslong, fruitless search to find evidence that they still exist.
Among them is the splendid ivory-billed woodpecker, once a not-uncommon sight in the southeastern U.S, whose ranks were drastically thinned by deforestation and hunting in the 19th century. As the AP reports, the bird had been “seen” in several unconfirmed episodes over the last few decades, which turned out to be false alarms; the last confirmed U.S. sighting was in 1944. (Some pushed back on the extinction label for the bird, arguing either that it may still be found in Cuba, where it was last seen more recently than in the U.S., or that the new label hinders efforts to keep looking at all.)
As with the other species on the list, which also include a highly rare freshwater mussel and the Kauai akialoa — a bird that had only been found in Hawaii — the ivory-billed woodpecker had been in dire straits for decades; all 23 of the newly extinct creatures were added to the endangered species list in the 1960s.
Only 11 species had previously been declared fully extinct since the Endangered Species Act passed in 1973, a law that kicked American conservation efforts into higher gear. But thanks to a toxic confluence of development and climate change, this may be only the tip of the iceberg. Scientists have been warning for decades that overdevelopment and warmer temperatures will destabilize the natural habitat for millions of animals — by, for instance, increasing the number of mosquitoes that can kill fragile populations with malaria.