Endangered Species Act faces energy-friendly rollbacks
Wednesday, July 25, 2018
The late 1960s and ‘70s were times of immense change in the U.S. The catalyst was the Vietnam War draft that caused the young people of that generation to question everything about the American lifestyle.
This included attention to the large-scale destruction of the natural world, which launched the modern environmental movement. The first Earth Day was in 1970, and three years later, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was born.
Today, the ESA faces dramatic changes under the Trump administration, leaving animal and plant lovers everywhere concerned for our collective future.
Changes to the ESA are arriving not so much in one legal gesture, but in several smaller maneuvers that can weaken the federal law. According to The New York Times, two dozen pieces of legislation have been introduced in the past two weeks that nature lovers everywhere should follow.
The ESA has been pivotal in animal protection in the past few decades, and there are currently 1,600 threatened and endangered species listed. The successful reintroduction of the gray wolf is emblematic of the need for an active ESA that protects wildlife.
Wolves have long been a nuisance to ranchers, farm owners, and other land owners who would trap and kill them in large numbers at the beginning of the century.
By 1920, there were only 40 gray wolves left, that is, until the species was listed as endangered. Wolves were brought in from Canada for repopulation, and last year the species was taken off the endangered list after being considered fully repopulated.
Other animals and plants benefitting from past federal protection include the majestic humpback whale, the unique American alligator, the epic bald eagle, the legendary grizzly bear, the ever popular peregrine falcon, and the cute little Virginia flying squirrel.
Don't be mistaken. The ESA has always had its critics from both sides as energy industry representatives who criticize it for thwarting development, while radical environmentalists criticize it for protections that do not go far enough.
But now that the ESA is under attack, we witness an appreciation for what it has accomplished over the decades.
One of the biggest proposed changes to the ESA is that economic considerations can be factored into whether or not a species qualifies for federal protection. What this means is that controversial industry projects held back by ESA protections may move forward.
For example, you may have heard about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) oil and gas drilling efforts. For decades, debates have raged on about drilling there. Be alerted that these proposed changes may be one route for renewal of these drilling projects.
One other controversial issue here is the distinction between threatened and endangered species.
Under the old rules, a species listed as "threatened" falls under the same protections as one listed as "endangered." New rules would not do this, placing the species in conditions leading to endangerment or even extinction.
Overall, these changes will make it "more difficult to list a new species for protection and easier to remove those now on the list."
What this gets down to is whether humans have a moral obligation to ensure species diversity for future generations or if more immediate financial concerns dwarf the more abstract moral ones.
This is a pitched battle about worldviews. Some see nature as vulnerable to capitalist exploitation that can ultimately destroy it, and others see nature as a resource for directly improving human life — including financial wealth.
A life without may of our favorite American plants and animals — including whales, bears, alligators, eagles, and many flowers and plants — is difficult to imagine. (If you look at the international list of critically endangered species, you’ll see gorillas, orangutans, tigers, elephants, and rhinos.)
Time may be running out for those who take the moral high road when it comes to species protection. It is certainly time to pay attention to these proposed changes to the ESA if you are someone who believes that nature is here for greater purposes than the generation of human financial wealth.
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