The Trump administration announced August 12 that change will be coming to the Endangered Species Act. These new guidelines will severely threaten wildlife and reverse important advances already made.
The updated Endangered Species Act, first signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1973, will make it harder to protect threatened populations. Regulators will now be allowed to assess what the economic cost of protecting certain species will be.
This change will make it easier for big oil and mining corporations to argue against protection. If they can show how much revenue will be lost, they can more easily influence the public and Washington to not support environmental protections.
Another big change to the Endangered Species Act deals directly with climate change. New guidelines for determining what is causing a decline in population charge regulators with only look at immediate threats.
Climate change is no longer something we will face in a few decades. It is not in the foreseeable future but is a threat we are dealing with today. Unfortunately, many lobbyists in Washington argue that it is years away. The new language weakens how scientists can use climate change to determine when populations need protection.
Without the Endangered Species Act, many iconic animals of North America would be gone. American alligators and crocodiles in the southeast have successfully rebounded. The California condor was also saved, as well as two major species that live in my home state: the bald eagle and the gray wolf.
The ESA Saved Our National Bird
I recently spent a week in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, protected land between Northern Minnesota and Canada. While there, I saw a bald eagle dive towards the water, hunting for its next meal. The moment was majestic and awesome. It would not have happened without the Endangered Species Act.
The bald eagle is one of the Endangered Species Act’s biggest success stories. A year before the Endangered Species Act was signed, the pesticide DDT was banned. DDT, along with several other factors, caused the bald eagle population to plummet.
There were only 417 breeding pairs of bald eagles in 1963, ten years before they were included in the act’s first endangered list. By 2007, that number was over 11,000 pairs and bald eagles were taken off the list of endangered and threatened species.
The scientific community brought greater public awareness to the plight of bald eagles. Yet it was passionate citizens and lawmakers who provided the means to save our national bird. The Endangered Species Act was not created to score political points or save the planet. It was signed to identify and protect species on the brink of extinction for the benefit of all.
The bald eagle represents more than the United States of America. It is the best example of why we need strong environmental legislation like the Endangered Species Act. Although the act has meant revenue loss for some, it would be much worse to lose entire species.
Still Threatened: The Gray Wolf
One of the new rules will make it easier to remove species from the threatened list, one step up from the endangered list. This will halt and subsequently reverse progress made with populations like the gray wolf. While their numbers have risen above the critical threshold, they still need support to not become endangered again.
One such population is the gray wolf. They were listed as endangered in 1975 after the population dipped to around 1,000 in the lower 48 states. With legal support from the act, as well as the work of scientists and conservationists, that number is now 6,000.
In 2003, gray wolves were downgraded from endangered to threatened. Species are no longer considered endangered when the plant or animal population is no longer in, “danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range,” the Endangered Species Act states.
While their population has rebounded and is now being reintroduced to national parks in the Great Lakes region and the West, wolves still remain threatened. According to the act, a species is threatened if it is, “likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future.”
As of 2019, gray wolves only live in about 20 percent of their historic range. About one-third live in Minnesota. Many are calling for the species to be declassified as “threatened,” yet gray wolves clearly do not meet the requirements laid out by the act. They still are missing from historic places west of the Mississippi.
Under Trump’s new changes, “threatened” species will not be protected the same as those classified as “endangered,” which could lead to them slipping back towards extinction. While populations like the gray wolf have successfully grown under the act, they still are at-risk in many regions.
These animals are necessary for the future growth of healthy environments. There is a delicate balance in every habitat and the loss of one group would have everlasting, damaging effects. Species should be protected the same until scientists have reason to believe the population is healthy enough to not need human protection.
The new changes to the Endangered Species Act cater to rich corporations that care more about money than the health of our planet. Protecting animals is not just for their benefit, but for ours as well. Trump’s decision should be reversed before it has the chance to reverse years of progress. Just think: without this strong act, our national bird would be gone forever.