Trump Favors Industry Over Environment: Guts Endangered Species Act
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced changes to regulations that spell out how it will implement parts of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The changes focus on how officials should decide whether to list a species as endangered or threatened, what kind of protections threatened species should receive, and how officials will decide which areas of habitat to protect.
Likely a coincidence but the decision was announced on World Elephant Day, August 12. All elephant species are clearly imperiled, and those in captivity used for performances are typically abused, even in the U.S.
Depending on how this and future administrations interpret the wording of the regulation, these changes mandated by the Trump administration will make it far easier to remove species from the endangered and threatened species lists. And it gets worse, the wording can also gives officials the ability to dismiss climate change as irrelevant to the threat to species’ survival and to consider economic factors when deciding whether to protect a species.
Economics Over Wildlife, And Still Questioning Climate Change
The very notion of considering economic factors is counter to the spirit (and also description in law) of what the Endangered Species Act is all about.
As for climate change, the Trump administration appears yet again to be questioning the validity that this happening, despite what nearly all scientists agree on from around the world. If you don’t believe scientists, images from outer space and temperature records clearly show what’s happening, as do the views and experiences of nearly all nations on the planet. Only in America is the notion of climate change somehow politicized.
I am writing this post from an island, called Baru, off the Coast of Columbia, where wildlife and humans are attempting to adjust to climate change. The people here live these change as ocean waters warm, the fish which they depend on for food are suffering. The entire ecosystem in their world is shifting in their lifetimes. Also, coffee producers on the mainland – where Columbia produces world renown coffee – are struggling to deal with the shifting climate. They told me their growing seasons have changed, for example.
Dr. Jane Goodall told me that she hasn’t visited a nation not impacted by climate change. Dr. Goodall, for her work, may receive a Nobel Peace Prize, and currently is an Ambassador of Peace for the United Nations. Goodall has definite views regarding maintaining the Endangered Species Act.
Politics Trumps the Day
Since the he ESA was signed into law in 1973 under President Richard Nixon, it requires the Fish and Wildlife Service, along with the National Marine Fisheries Service, to identify and protect species facing the risk of extinction. Under the law, if a species is listed as endangered or threatened, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service can prohibit people from hunting or harvesting that species or damaging areas of its habitat. Species added to the lists also get recovery plans, usually implemented largely at the state level, to help the species’ numbers rebound. Or at least that is what has happened in the past – not now based on Trump administration mandated changes.
The Endangered Species Act has been a success. Since 1973, 1,650 animal and plant species have been listed, and 85 species have later been removed from the list, either because they recovered or (in the case of 11 species so far) went extinct. Without the ESA that number going extinct would be far larger, and include the manatees, the Florida panther, the Bald Eagle and others….not to mention amphibians and marine life, all of which would affect countless other species of animals as well as plants. What the Trump administration doesn’t understand or care about is the larger picture, that one species usually impacts many others – and often our own.
Since 2016, about two dozen bills seeking to weaken the ESA have either been introduced in Congress, most proposed by the Trump administration. These have included several bills targeting protections for individual species, which conflict with various industries’ interest in development. So, this is all about money. Short-term money. As for long term, as I suggested allowing species to perish impacts other species including our own and we will all suffer. Not to mention the significant ethical issue of not only saving the animals but the wild places where they live. I mean, would have it been acceptable to allow the Florida panther, manatees and our own national symbol, the Bald Eagle, to disappear from the planet or to only be found in zoos? Without the Endangered Species Act, that would have happened to these and other species of animals and plants.
Despite decades of opposition to the Endangered Species Act, especially among ranchers and the oil and logging industries, none of the recent string of bills made it to the Senate. Even in a then-Republican-controlled Congress, attempts to seriously overhaul the ESA and its enforcement haven’t gotten much traction, until the Trump administration.
Most of the specific changes hinge on subtle differences in wording, and you can read these documents for a detailed explanation.
FWS released 359 pages of documents outlining the revisions, the reasoning behind them, and the back and forth with “a wide range of stakeholders who had been asked by FWS for comments during the two-year process. Noted is that the Trump administration has clear ties with many of these stakeholders, who have financial interests in land endangered pants and animals live on.
Case for Endangered Species Act: It Has Worked and It’s the Right Thing To Do
Aside from high profile examples, such as the Bald Eagle, the ESA protected Eggert’s Sunflower, one of four plant species to have recovered enough to make it off the endangered and threatened species lists. Insects need the flower, birds and bats need those insects, etc. And also, the flowers are simply beautiful.
Another example is the American burying beetle. This little beetle is a one beetle trash crew, and really important to cycle nutrients back into the environment, but the beetle began to disappear due to pesticides and human development. This innocuous bug is actually important to many other animals and the soil. The beetle is listed as endangered, although a recent bill in the House of Representatives unsuccessfully attempted to de-list it. Really, de-list a beetle? Why? It’s because of developers and other interests.
U.S. Fish And Wildlife is Supposed to Protect U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Another concern, and trend is a lack of transparency. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture no longer offers easy online access to results of Dept. of Ag inspections based on public complaints. For example, if an alleged puppy miller is inspected, those results are now difficult to find. Lawsuits continue since the agency is funded by U.S. taxpayers who you would think have a right to know, as do those who registered the complaint about a dog breeding facility – or whatever that complaint is about is about in the first place. Many fear, that simply “don’t tell people” will soon also be the mantra for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In April, the Trump administration quietly moved to allow big game hunting and to allow for import big game trophies, including elephant tusks and lion hides. Both of the President Trump’s sons have written in Twitter feeds that there is nothing wrong with big game hunting, and only “PeTA crazies” would oppose. This all harkens to a 1950’s and 1940’s mentality when it was “cool” to hunt big game in Africa and other exotic places.
I asked Dr. Jane Goodall , who is about as revered as anyone on the planet ,and who’s life is dedicated to saving our planet, on what she thinks of President Trump’s views on the environment. You can watch her response.
True leaders, such as Princes William and Harry in the U.K. and Prince Charles are using their platforms to save wildlife and protect the environment. Irrelevant of politics, the U.S. was previously considered a leader when it came to protecting the planet and all who inhabit it.
Note it was a Republican administration, Richard Nixon’s, which the Endangered Species Act was created.
Historically both Republican and Democrat Presidents have supported the general spirit of the Endangered Species Act.
True there have been differences among individual administrations, and certainly climate change was not so much an issue in the early 1970’s. This is the first time that a President has sought to actually “gut” the basic intent and legal obligation of the Endangered Species Act.