This picture of a Sierra Nevada red fox was the first confirmed detection in Yosemite in nearly a century
PHOTO BY NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
“(T)hese bills go right at the key decision junctures in the act that protect species.” ~ Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity
The Trump administration, of course, values money and political power above the intrinsic value of the dwindling natural world. This is not a new concept, but this regime is the most extreme ever. Since inception, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state agencies that manage our public lands, waters, and wildlife have been funded primarily on fees collected for killing wildlife and weapon and ammunition taxes.
Now the Trump administration has ordered our federal agencies to consider economic concerns over protecting endangered species.
Republican legislator Don Young and the Congressional Western Caucus (representing hunter, trapper and rancher abuse of public land and wildlife) have proposed a nine-bill package to “modernize” the ESA. Read that for what it is: to weaken and eliminate its power to protect vulnerable species. Young claims: “The Endangered Species Act has been weaponized and misused by environmental groups for too long.” (Men seem to think of saving as “weaponized” and killing as “conservation.”
Two-thirds of Earth’s wildlife has been destroyed, across species, in just 50 years. Extinction is accelerating with climate change. The Endangered Species Act needs to be strengthened, not eviscerated.
Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said in an interview on Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now!” July 25: “(T)he Trump administration’s proposal to gut the Endangered Species Act is the most comprehensive, devastating attempt to destroy this law we’ve seen in this entire time. And this is after Reagan and after the Bushes.”
In Wisconsin, Sen. Tom Tiffany, chair of the senate Natural Resources Committee, is a bear-hunting wolf hater. The chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works is similarly disposed, as Suckling points out: “Meanwhile, in the Senate, Wyoming Republican John Barrasso, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, also introduced a draft bill to amend the act.” This is Barrasso speaking at a hearing last week.
Over 60 Republican bills have been launched in the past two years to weaken or demolish the Endangered Species Act. The Committee for Biological Diversity has sued the Trump administration 81 times and won most. So Republicans are stacking the Supreme Court and courts across the country with right-wing judges to serve their agenda of disdain for government agencies, regulations, and protections. An independent judiciary has been our only safeguard, and it is being destroyed.
If Republican plans go into effect, according to Suckling they will:
• Destroy the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with drilling.
• Strip protections entirely from about 60 percent of the threatened species now almost as protected as endangered species. “Under the Trump proposal, they would get no protection at all. You could continue to kill them, you could continue to destroy their habitat, as if they were simply not protected.
• “The Trump administration now wants to say, when deciding whether a species is endangered — a scientific question — you’re going to have to take into account economic impacts. Well, economic activity — mining, logging, grazing — is the cause of endangerment. And this is the Endangered Species Act, not the Endangered Mining Industry Act. So it really turns the priority of this very successful law entirely upside down.”
• Barrasso wants to delegate endangered species decisions to the states and proposes “voluntary” programs replace mandatory protection of habitat and endangered species. That assumes that states have the money and the desire to protect wildlife.
• Right-wing groups, particularly from the Western states (where much logging, mining, grazing, oil drilling, and coal mining occurs on public lands) are co-conspirators with Trump, the real estate developer, to exploit what is left.
Suckling explained that the Endangered Species Act has improved the conditions and survival of 85 percent of the 1,600 species on the domestic list. He mentions how the bald eagle recovered from a few hundred to 8,000, then was delisted; the grizzly bear, wolverine, green sea turtles, Atlantic sturgeon, Florida manatees have been helped somewhat. It is FEDERAL protection that has helped.
Suckling said the barrage of bills to gut the Endangered Species Act is devastating and targeted. “And they know what they’re doing.” They seek to:
• Make it harder to put an endangered species on the list at all.
• Allow habitat set up to protect species to be destroyed.
• “They want to change the people who create recovery plans for the species, the blueprint of what actions are needed, so that the states and industry groups dominate those plans.
• Eliminate recognition that global warming and greenhouse gases are factors driving species to extinction.
• Create loopholes for grazing “rights,” and for oil, mining, and logging companies to implement destructive plans that are driving species to extinction.
This calls for a citizen outpouring of support for the ESA, directed to federal legislators.
Find your senators and representatives here. Call and email them to vote against Barrasso’s nine bills to gut the Endangered Species Act and vote against all 60 pending bills to weaken or “modernize” it. Strengthen it at this critical time of climate change.
This is the Center for Biological Diversity Action page of links. Click on wildlife. Please bookmark it and help stand up for our voiceless wildlife. I know they would do it for you.
This column was originally published in the Madison CapTimes on July 29, 2018.