Where are we in the fight to protect endangered species?

  • Mar. 13, 2018 4:37 p.m.

Dear EarthTalk: Now Trump is going to allow the importing of elephant “trophies” after all! Where do things stand overall now in the fight to protect endangered species, especially as wildlife now also face threats from climate change?

— Mark Harrison, Sumter, S.C.

In what some see as another capitulation to the National Rifle Association (NRA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) undid an earlier ban on importing elephant parts from Africa, now allowing hunters to get permits on “a case-by-case basis.”

News like this makes the whole wildlife situation seem grim — and it is. But many scientists and activists are working hard to try to secure protections for threatened species and wildlife habitat in the face of many assaults by the pro-development Trump administration and Republican-controlled Congress.

Back in mid-2016, candidate Trump’s talk of reneging on the Paris climate accord didn’t bode well for wildlife facing increasing threats due to global warming. After all, many of the 340 species added to the nation’s endangered species list during President Obama’s watch got there due to climate-related threats.

Last fall, the White House denied petitions to add some 25 threatened wildlife species to the nation’s endangered species list, including the Pacific walrus, Florida Keys mole skink and eastern boreal toad. Officials from USFWS cited “uncertainty” over the future effects of climate change as a rationale.

“You couldn’t ask for a clearer sign that the Trump administration puts corporate profits ahead of protecting endangered species,” says Noah Greenwald of the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). “Denying protection for these 25 species despite the imminent threat of climate change and ongoing habitat destruction is typical of the Trump administration’s head-in-the-sand approach.”

The appointment of Ryan Zinke to head the Department of Interior was further proof that President Trump values resource extraction on public lands over conservation of wildlife.

And the story only gets worse. This past January, USFWS initiated proceedings to take the Canadian lynx off the threatened list altogether and downgrade a number of other species from endangered to threatened.

CBD has led the charge in filing several concurrent lawsuits against these moves by the Trump administration. Most recently, the group filed suit in federal court to overturn the White House decision to deny threatened protection for the Pacific walrus. “We’re confident the court will see this…as a politically driven decision that completely ignores the agency’s legal obligations to protect imperiled wildlife,” says CBD attorney Emily Jeffers.

Meanwhile, the legislative branch isn’t helping wildlife or its advocates much either. Congress’ 2018 budget bill is chock full of “riders” aimed to cut endangered species protections for wolves in Wyoming and the Midwest, the greater sage grouse of the Southwest and other iconic American wildlife species, not to mention cuts to funding to bolster states’ endangered species protection programs.

Wildlife lovers everywhere can keep their fingers crossed that upcoming midterm elections will at least be a step in the right direction — as long as Democrats can gain seats in the House and Senate — when it comes to saving the wildlife that helped make America great in the first place.

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