How to Fight Against Trump’s Proposed Changes to the Endangered Species Act

There couldn’t be a worse moment for President Trump to attack the Endangered Species Act. Yet, precisely when our natural world needs us most, he and his administration have proposed rolling back some of the Act’s key provisions.

Many scientists believe the Earth is currently experiencing its sixth mass extinction, although some scientists disagree. They point out that the first five mass extinctions were on a completely different scale — and wreaked devastation far beyond the species loss that we’re currently experiencing.

Unfortunately for us, and for all the other animals on this planet, this dispute doesn’t really matter; it’s merely semantics. The scientific evidence clearly reveals that Earth is experiencing species loss at rates that far exceed the natural rate of extinction.

Just take a look at the number of vertebrate species we’ve lost over the past century. According to a 2015 study, those species should’ve taken between 800 and 10,000 years to disappear — a far cry from a mere 100 years.

The Endangered Species Act plays a vital role in protecting our country’s wide and dazzling array of flora and fauna.

Since it was first passed into law 45 years ago, the ESA has protected thousands of plants and animals that humans have pushed from their natural habitats and driven close to extinction. These animals include the grizzly bear, the bald eagle, the humpback whale, and Florida’s much beloved manatee. Can you imagine a world without these incredible creatures?

Earth’s future biodiversity may well depend on our willingness to fight to keep the protections afforded by the Endangered Species Act in place.

EXTINCTIONS ARE JUST THE TIP OF THE (MELTING) ICEBERG

While some scientists debate the definition of “mass extinctions,” others say the current focus on animal extinctions misses the forest for the trees — and may actually overestimate the health of the planet.

Ecologist Gerardo Ceballos is one of them. He says extinctions are merely the final chapter in the full story of humanity’s siege on Earth’s biodiversity. “While the biosphere is undergoing mass species extinction,” he explains, “it is also being ravaged by a much more serious and rapid wave of population declines and extinctions.”

Even in the absence of mass species extinction, local animal population declines can profoundly impact ecosystems.

To make this point, Ceballos uses a thought experiment in which he imagines every animal and plant on earth has collapsed into a single population. Animals and plants are living — but ecosystems are dead. In this world, which would be devoid of any local biodiversity and ecosystem services, humanity couldn’t survive.

Alternatively, here’s a slightly less extreme, but still very scary, vision of humanity’s future: Biodiversity and ecosystem services are sharply curtailed at both the local and global levels — and limited to species able to thrive among the ecological and environmental upheaval brought about by the Anthropocene.

Even the surviving species live on the edge of a precipice. Their natural habitats continue to shrink, due to climate change and the increasing demand on natural resources from an ever-growing global human population.

THE ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT IS UNDER ASSAULT

Sounds awful, doesn’t it? Well, that dystopic future could be ours — unless we act quickly. Because, like Machiavelli, our current president’s approach to governance divorces politics from morality.

The efforts by President Trump and some Congressional Republicans to undermine the Endangered Species Act have been well documented by The Center for Biological Diversity. A collection of oil and gas companies, libertarians and ranchers have seized the opportunity to advance their interests by arguing that the Endangered Species Act is a costly federal overreach that unfairly restricts their property rights and livelihoods.

By attaching amendments to must-pass spending or defense bills, they have succeeded in removing protections for the gray wolf, lesser prairie chicken, sage grouse, African “trophy animals” and more.

The changes to the ESA that are now under consideration by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration include a fundamental alteration that would, for the first time, allow the economic impact of protecting plants and animals to be considered when evaluating whether species face extinction (instead of basing the decision solely on scientific findings).

Furthermore, the automatic protected status for threatened plants and animals is facing elimination. The proposal to replace it with a process that would extend limited and tailored protections on a species-by-species basis is flawed and entirely inadequate. Given the breadth of animal population declines that the Earth is currently experiencing, this change could have devastating ecological consequences.

HOW YOU CAN HELP ENDANGERED SPECIES, NOW

Congress enacted the Endangered Species Act in 1973 with widespread bipartisan support — after which President Richard Nixon, a Republican, signed it into law.

Today, the Endangered Species Act provides vital support for animals and their habitats by protecting more than 1,600 plant and animal species. It’s even credited with the resurgence of the American alligator, the gray whale and the bald eagle.

This isn’t about parties or politics; it’s about the Earth we all call home. If you care about animals, the environment — and the future of life on this planet — we encourage you to call your representatives.

Speak with your Congressman and Senator. Tell them that you vote, that you care about animals, that the promotion of biodiversity and the mitigation of ecological risk are important to you, and that you vehemently oppose the proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act.

“Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed.”
– Richard Nixon