Scientists trying to protect wildlife from extinction as climate change raises risk

From clean air and water to healthy soil and medicines, our survival and prosperity rely heavily on the rich diversity of plants and animals that make up our world. A 2019 U.N. report found that around 1 million plant and animal species could be threatened with extinction around the globe. But new research finds climate change could drive up to 6 million different species to extinction over the next 50 years, including in communities across the United States.  

CBS News and Stations explored how a warming planet and unchecked development are leading to significant population declines in species, why that’s bad for humanity, and the heroic lengths some scientists will go to protect life on Earth. 

For some species, it’s already too late. For others, there are innovative ways to help rehabilitate a species decimated by climate change. Scientists are using a range of tools to protect species in creative and unique ways and to anticipate future changes.

In Bisbee, Arizona, one scientist who has spent his career studying evolutionary biology and ecology is tracking a 3-million-year-old lizard population dying at one of the fastest rates ever recorded. 

A Yarrow's spiny lizard close up, sitting on a rock
Yarrow’s spiny lizards may be extinct in the Mule Mountains of Arizona after living there for 3 million years.

Chance Horner / CBS News

Another group is trying to save the Puerto Rican parrot, one of the most critically endangered birds in the world, as more destructive hurricanes jeopardize the parrot’s ecosystem.

Endangered parrots in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rican parrots huddle in a flight cage at the Iguaca Aviary in El Yunque, Puerto Rico.

Carlos Giusti / AP

See more reporting on how groups are trying to save certain species

More stories will be added above as they are published.

Endangered species by the numbers 

The U.S. Endangered Species Act was established in 1973 and provides federal protection for wildlife in danger of becoming extinct.

The main agency responsible for carrying out the act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, lists nearly 1,700 species endangered or threatened as of April 1. Nearly 1,400 species on the list have active recovery plans. New species are added every year. 

A 2019 study estimated the Endangered Species Act had prevented the extinction of nearly 300 species since its passage. 

But not every species in danger of extinction gets listed. A 2016 study found that typically, species waited 12 years to receive protection, for those reviewed between 1973 and 2014. The deadlines included in the act dictate it should only take two years when initiated by a third party. 

Still, nearly every county in the U.S. has at least one species in danger of disappearing from the planet.  

Number of endangered or threatened species by county in the U.S.

Roll over or click on a county below to see more information about species in the area.

A map showing the number of endangered threatened species by county, colored in shades of blue. Hawaii, Southern California, and Southern Florida have the highest numbers.

Across all U.S. states, Hawaii has the greatest number of species listed as endangered or threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service —  estimated at nearly 500 species.  

Endangered or threatened species in Hawaii

By group:


The number is driven mostly by flowering plants, including the iconic state flower, the ma’o hau hele, or native yellow hibiscus flower. 

The ma'o hau hele, or yellow hibiscus flower is the state flower of Hawaii and endangered, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The ma’o hau hele, or yellow hibiscus flower is the state flower of Hawaii and endangered, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

California has the second highest number listed, with nearly 300 endangered or threatened species. This includes the San Joaquin kit fox and the Lange’s metalmark butterfly. Like Hawaii, the high number is driven by the roughly 170 species of flowering plants. There are higher numbers in coastal, central and southern counties.

Number of endangered threatened species by county in California

A map showing the number of endangered threatened species by county in California, colored in shades of blue. Coastal, central and Southern California have the highest numbers.

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