It’s no secret that humans are the reason for the increased amount of endangered species throughout the world due to a lovely combination of habitat reduction, pollution, introduction of invasive species and climate change. You could even say that we are causing a sixth mass extinction event ourselves as background extinction rates are up 1000-10000 times their normal rates. Despite this, there are many efforts to reduce the extinction rate and conserve endangered species by scientists and the government alike.
When given proper attention these projects can save species from the edge of extinction, but only with the appropriate amount of funding. So there must be a choice between which species to dedicate the resources to and which to leave to their own devices. This isn’t a completely objective process, which is evident in the one common characteristic between the species that receive funding: They are useful to humans.
Whether it be the huge conservation efforts for pollinators that help supply our food or the preservation of cute mammals like the panda, there is a huge discrepancy in the amount of funding that goes to “marketable” animals as opposed to groups that could use more attention like amphibians (about 33 percent endangered) and reptiles (about 41 percent endangered). Plants end up on the bottom of the priority list for funding as well, due to the difficulty of marketing a plant versus an animal.
This decision making process is the result of viewing nature with an instrumental value mindset — “how can nature benefit us humans directly?” — instead of viewing it with an intrinsic value mindset, one that values specific species and wild ecosystems simply because they are, not because of their use to us.
We are creating an increasingly inhospitable world for the species around us and then picking and choosing which of them to save from the situation by using arbitrary standards of human usefulness and beauty. It creates the same feedback loop of over-exploitation/mistreatment and then a rush of support to repair our mistakes.
One example of this is the Steelhead Trout, which has 11 different at-risk populations due to overfishing and habitat loss. It received $263 million of funding in 2012, according to Scientific American.
Another similar example in the same year is the Chinook Salmon, which received around $240 million in conservation funding. The total budget for endangered species protection in 2012 was $1.7 billion, so these two species and their respective subspecies cost around a third of the entire budget for the year.
To put in perspective the priorities of our country, in the same year, the U.S. spent around $684 billion on the military alone, according to Statista. We spent more money on destroying the earth in one year than we will spend on conservation in the next couple hundred years — just in case you needed to get rid of that little bit of hope you had left for the future.
This is not a good position for us to be in. Species are going extinct at an unmanageable rate and the attempts to manage it are underfunded and biased to our needs, not the needs of the entire environment.
If more funding was available, it may be possible to approach species conservation in a way that places intrinsic value over instrumental value, but because money is the limiting factor it creates a competition for funding. And which is more likely to get funding, salmon populations that feed thousands of people, or a salamander that plays a critical role in its local habitat? What about a cute bumble bee that works hard and pollinates all of our crops or a species of dragonfly that isn’t found anywhere else in the world? These dilemmas are ones that need to be addressed in the coming years as more species become endangered and eventually extinct, and we show no indication of actually changing our ways.