- Conservation groups can no longer afford to try to protect as many animals and plants as they have in the past, so they are increasingly turning to new systems of triage to explicitly determine which species to save and which to leave to die.
- Function-first forms of triage favor species that perform a unique job in nature, such as whitebark pines, which provide vital food for grizzly bears.
- Evolution-first approaches seek to preserve genetic diversity—from the two-humped Bactrian camel to the Chinese giant salamander—which can help all the world's species survive and adapt in fast-changing environmental conditions.
- Other methods refine the popular hotspots approach, which focuses on saving whole ecosystems but may give short shrift to human needs.
The Ashy Storm-Petrel, a tiny, dark-gray seabird, nests on 11 rocky, isolated islands in the Pacific Ocean off the coasts of California and Mexico. Weighing little more than a hefty greeting card and forced to contend with invasive rats, mice and cats, aggressive seagulls, oil spills and sea-level rise, it faces an outsize fight for survival. At last count, only 10,000 remained. Several other species of storm-petrels are similarly endangered.
Yet at least one conservation group has decided to ignore the petrel. In the winter of 2008 the Wildlife Conservation Society was focusing its far-flung efforts on a small number of animals. The society's researchers had spent months analyzing thousands of declining bird and mammal species around the world and had chosen several hundred that could serve as cornerstones for the organization's work. They then turned to people with decades of experience studying wildlife to further narrow the possibilities.