Friday, May 15, 2020

An update on the Endangered Species Act for Endangered Species Day

Happy National Endangered Species Day!
Each year on the third Friday in May, National Endangered Species Day offers an opportunity for everyone to learn about the importance of protecting endangered species. The observance also encourages learning about wildlife habitats and the actions necessary to protect them. Every year you can participate along with thousands of others at events hosted by wildlife refuges, zoos, parks, community centers, aquariums, botanical gardens, libraries, and schools.

The 40th anniversary of the Federal Endangered Species Act was observed in 2013.

The observance is designed to protect critically imperiled species from extinction as a “consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation.” On December 28, 1973, President Richard Nixon signed the Federal Endangered Species Act into law.

The Act is administered by two federal agencies, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The FWS maintains a list of all the endangered species, which includes birds, insects, fish, reptiles, mammals, crustaceans, flowers, grasses, and trees. In late 2019, President Trump announced a major overhaul to the law that would reduce regulations. Because of this, it’s more important than ever to support the ESA.
That last sentence reminded me that I last wrote about the Endangered Species Act in Vox uses wolves to explain a shortcoming of the Endangered Species Act, itself an update to Trump administration weakening enforcement of Endangered Species Act. I missed a video when I wrote that, which was more about the act itself than Trump's then-proposed changes to enforcement. Watch CBS Sunday Morning's On the brink: The Endangered Species Act.

Around the world, plant and animal species are going extinct at a rate faster than any time in human history. The Endangered Species Act, signed into law 46 years ago, has succeeded in preventing hundreds of species on the list from going extinct, and has recovered 54 species. But new regulatory changes to the Act are being finalized by the Trump administration, which may weaken its ability to protect wildlife and habitat, and – say wildlife advocates – speed extinctions. Conor Knighton reports.
As a former Ranger Naturalist at Channel Islands National Park, I wasn't surprised that the Island Fox was listed, but I am pleasantly surprised that the species recovered so quickly. As for the effects of the proposed changes, Don Hopey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette asked What's more endangered: the species or the list?
In the year since an international study first warned that more than 1 million of the Earth’s 8.1 million known animal, plant and insect species face extinction in coming decades, only one species was classified as threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

That’s not due to some sort of miraculous biological recovery of the thousands of at-risk species, but because the Trump administration has made it more difficult to list and protect them, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

The sole protection exception was the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale, a 55-foot-long, 90,000-pound mammal that’s hard to overlook and was listed as endangered by NOAA Fisheries on May 15, 2019.

“That no species have been listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the last year is both surprising and shocking given the declines we are seeing,” said Bruce Stein, the federation’s chief scientist.
[N]ew federal ESA listings have all but disappeared in the three-plus years since Donald Trump became president. According to a USFWS website, threatened and endangered listings totaled 11 in 2017, five in 2018, and there was no listing for 2019. In 2020, the service listed one new species as threatened, the Hawaiian goose, but the goose had been listed as endangered in 1967, and the 2020 listing was a downlisting of the original listing, not a new listing.
For comparison, the fish and wildlife service listed 74 species as threatened or endangered in 2016, 31 in 2015, 66 in 2014 and 89 in 2013.
That's the bad outcome I was afraid of when these regulations were proposed. I don't expect any better from this administration, as they have been anti-environment since the week Trump was inaugurated, when I wrote Yesterday was a good day for pipelines, a bad one for environmentalists and one of the main reasons why the Doomsday Clock has been moved closer to midnight three times during Trump's presidency.

Since Americans can't count on the federal government to protect the world's endangered species, what can be done, other than voting Trump out this November? A surprising amount, says National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore in CBS Sunday Morning's A wake-up call on saving endangered species.

In order to help stabilize our planet's life support systems and improve our world, National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore says we must step up and solve environmental problems, even small ones, in our communities; by saving other species, we will be saving our own.
This is the kind of advice I give my students and serves as an example of Commoner's Laws, especially the first: "Everything Is Connected to Everything Else. There is one ecosphere for all living organisms and what affects one, affects all." The other relevant laws are "Everything Must Go Somewhere" for reduce, reuse, and recycle, "Nature Knows Best" for protecting natural habitat as the life support system for humans along with the rest of life on Earth, and "There Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch" for the costs of our overexploitation of nature. May we all remember these laws and learn how to act on them.

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