Crisis Looms over North America
Environmental News Service
Quebec, Canada, January 19, 2002 (ENS) - North America's
natural environments face a "widespread crisis" due to
vanishing biodiversity, says a new report by the North
American Commission for Environmental Cooperation.
Half of North America's most biodiverse eco-regions are
now severely degraded, and North America now has at least
235 threatened species of mammals, birds, reptiles and
amphibians, according to "The North American Mosaic: A
State of the Environment Report."
"North America's diminishing biological diversity has profound
consequences," the report states. "Because the loss is irreversible
- species that are lost are lost forever - the potential
impact on the human condition, on the fabric of the continent's
living systems, and on the process of evolution is immense."
Released Monday, the report was required under the environmental
accord of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
and was submitted by top environmental officials of the
NAFTA partners, Canada, Mexico and the United States.
report shows that over the past few decades, the loss
and alteration of habitat has become the main threat to
biodiversity," said Janine Ferretti, executive director
of the CEC. "A significant proportion of the plant and
animal species of North America is threatened."
The amount of land in North America protected from development
has tripled over the last 20 years, but still a decline
in habitat, plus specific hunting and harvesting practices,
has led to a widespread crisis not confined to any one
country or region, the report says.
The creation of new wilderness areas accounted for most
of the increase in protected land, including the doubling
in the size of U.S. areas in 1980 with enactment of the
Alaska National Interest Lands Act. Nineteen new biosphere
reserves were created in Mexico in the 1990s, and Canada
has tripled the area of its protected sites over the past
But "looming threats overshadow these positive achievements,"
the report warns. All three countries are in danger of being
overwhelmed by factors such as the attraction of visitors
to natural areas, the allocation of insufficient funds to
manage natural places, and adjacent development that turns
protected areas into threatened islands.
Islands of natural ecosystems are not enough, the study
confirms. "Some of the region's species depend on healthy,
contiguous forest ecosystems. Habitat fragmentation and
loss within these forests now threaten many migratory
species. Birds are losing nesting, feeding, and resting
The commission says monarch butterflies face threats, including
"coastal development in California, deforestation of oyamel
fir forests in Mexico and the use of pesticides on and around
milkweed plants," the species' primary food and where they
lay their eggs.
North Americans are fishing down the food chain, and freshwater
species are more vulnerable to extinction, the report
On a positive note, soil erosion is on the decline, but
the threat of drought increasing due to global warming.
Transportation is following unsustainable trend, the commission
warns, and global warming induced by the burning of fossil
fuels may lead to a rise in sea level that would threaten
Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, among other areas
Natural disasters becoming more frequent, and more expensive,
the report says and the poor are hit hardest by environmental
The growing number of invasive species introduced to North
America through increased travel and trade poses some of
the most serious threats to native biodiversity, the report
says, including species competition, predation, disease,
parasitism and hybridization.
or the spread of non-native species, has become one of
the greatest threats to natural biological diversity.
Without additional safeguards, it is almost inevitable
that increased international trade will also increase
the rates at which alien species are introduced into domestic
waters and terrestrial ecosystems, the Commission for
Environmental Cooperation reports.
The North American Mosaic presents the first analysis
of the overall state of the North American environment
by the Montreal based Commission for Environmental Cooperation.
The commission was established to build cooperation among
the NAFTA partners - Canada, Mexico and the United States
- in protecting shared environments, with a particular
focus on the opportunities and challenges presented by
continent wide free trade.