A push to add the loggerhead sea turtle is bolstered by several studies that say they could be extinct in the middle of the century. Besides natural predators, boat strikes, fishing and dredging, baby loggerheads have to contend with humans who see them and illegally take them home, thinking they can take care of them. The Tybee Island Marine Science Center in Georgia says it hears about this happening often.
“(People take them) because they’re so cute," said Lauren Broome, a marine biologist at the center. "When they’re hatched, they’re about … 2 inches."
But do cuter animals like the loggerhead have an easier time getting on the endangered list than creepier or more menacing creatures?
Patrick Gallagher, director of the Sierra Club’s Environmental Law Program, says cute or charismatic animals can have an easier time, politically, getting protections from federal officials.
“Decision makers feel more protected when they have a charismatic animal at issue as opposed to something more obscure,” Gallagher said. “But the fact is science should drive all the decisions.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is one of the federal administrators of the Endangered Species Program. The FWS is charged with ensuring proper development in areas where endangered animals live, as well as habitat restoration. FWS has consistently stated the list is maintained in accordance with scientific findings.
The program has had great success in the past with certain animals, including bald eagles, which were taken off the list in 2007 after eagle populations increased. Yet some environmentalists say other animals, like wolves in the Colorado region, are removed because of political pressures from developers, farmers and other interest groups.
“The pressure to remove something from the list comes from a variety of sources, including political pressure brought by the opponents,” Gallagher said.
Many environmentalists say they're concerned that key animals and plants are not protected simply because they aren’t popular. Other environmentalists say that the U.S. government should move quickly to come to a determination for some 750 species – many of them, like the wolverine, not exactly known for being cute and cuddly.
Click the audio player to hear the rest of the story from CNN Radio's John Sepulvado: