Tuesday, February 28, 2017
America’s Endangered Species Act … is also an Endangered Species
Readers of the prestigious Washington Post woke to an alarming headline last week announcing the Republican Administration’s intent to gut and/or dismantle the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). This was not sensationalist journalism but, sadly, our new reality. In fact, Senate Republicans held a hearing on February 15, 2017 to effectively begin the process of weakening the ESA, an Act that was first signed into law in 1973. Chairing that hearing was Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, who has a history of favouring the oil and gas industry over environmental issues.
The Republicans’ war on wildlife is nothing new. They have been waging this war for a very long time. They have always viewed Nature as a direct threat to business, private land ownership and the profitability of resource exploitation industries such as logging and mining. Indeed, “since the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2011, they have made 233 legislative attempts to either dismantle the Act or target specific endangered species.” (Source: IFLScience)
New this time around, however, is the fact that the Republicans are now in full control of the conversation. Politically speaking, that is. The average American, we are told, probably doesn’t agree with too much tampering to the existing ESA. It has been reported that the vast majority of Americans (fully 90%) support the Act, this according to a national poll conducted in 2015.
For more than 40 years America’s ESA has been successfully protecting species, including its iconic national symbol, the bald eagle. It has also brought the American alligator, the Stellar sea lion, the peregrine falcon and many, many other plant and animal species back from the brink of extinction. Data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicates that the ESA has saved 99% of listed species from extinction. In fact, scientists say that some 227 species would already be extinct without it. (Source: Center for Biological Diversity)
What does all this mean for Canada and Canadian wildlife?
We share this beautiful continent with our neighbours to the south, so what happens in the USA unfortunately doesn’t always stay in the USA. Already, biologists have pointed out the sheer lunacy of building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Wildlife does not know what a border is and migration routes traverse all three nations on this continent.
Here, around the Great Lakes, we are particularly jittery about the Republicans’ next steps and any successful attempt at destroying their ESA. We share the Great Lakes with the United States, and if biodiversity and the ecological integrity of the Great Lakes region — its watersheds, wetlands and deciduous forests — are in jeopardy to the south of us, it is going to most definitely impact the bio stability of the entire region eventually. Just as frightening would be the concurrent weakening of America’s EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). Increased pollution and contamination, and an uptake in fossil fuel extraction, coal mining and fracking combined with a much-weakened ESA are a recipe for ecological and environmental disaster in the long term.
I don’t believe this is an exaggeration or alarmist rhetoric. So much of wild North America is under threat as it is. Many species are teetering on the brink while others are losing ground – literally – every day. Biodiversity is a fragile and interconnected web, so the loss of just one species affects all others. Those species that are on the brink and losing the battle need even more protection, not less. They will surely falter if protections are pulled.
Then, there is the war that Republicans feel is their right to wage – their manifest destiny – to eliminate any species (humans included) that stands in the way of their worldview, their progress, their profits. Native species in their rifle sights include most notably wolves, coyotes, cougars and bears. We should not forget to add to any list of beleaguered species under attack the west’s wild mustangs and wild burros, regularly rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
The carnage is going to be gruesome.
North America is one continent. Our mountain ranges, our prairies, our lakes and our forests do not recognize borders. Wildlife crosses freely, oblivious to the politics of their survival or demise. Their only hope is our attention, our awareness and our advocacy. Hands across the border, we must reach out to our fellow environmentalists in the U.S. and show our support for their efforts and for their resistance – organizations such as the wonderful Center for Biological Diversity or the Canadian/American cooperative, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative – to name but two.
Even as we in Ontario face some battles over Ontario’s ESA in the current climate in which Wynne’s economic woes threaten to outweigh her government’s obligation to the ESA, we must not ignore what is happening in the U.S. Other countries may easily mock the Trump Administration; they can rail and rant and dismiss him as unstable or incompetent. He is. That’s not in question. But Canada is the only other country in the world together with Mexico that will directly bear the brunt of the brutal, short-sighted machinations of the new U.S. Administration. The health and wellbeing of the entire continent is at stake if the ESA and the EPA are vitiated.
We may stand some distance from the border, but we must, however, stand in opposition to any gutting of America’s ESA if we care at all about North American wildlife – indeed, if we care at all about the future of life on earth. It is incumbent upon us to be vigilant and to work harder than ever as advocates for the voiceless. As my Twitter community of friends and followers would say – it’s time to #resist.
To follow information about Ontario’s ESA visit Ontario Nature.
To follow the USA issue visit the Center for Biological Diversity and check out their #EARTH2TRUMP movement.