The Trump proposal, rolled out by a former lobbyist for the oil industry, couched the proposals in soothing terms, describing them as updates that cut through red tape. But a hard look at the specifics shows how radical the changes really are.

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From southern resident orcas in Puget Sound to salmon in the Columbia, iconic animals help define the Pacific Northwest. But many of the species that make this a special place are in trouble. They need our help to survive.

That help — and their survival — just got a whole lot less certain because of an appalling new attack by the Trump administration on the Endangered Species Act.

For four decades, this landmark law has pulled creatures like the bald eagle back from the brink. It has saved 99 percent of the animals and plants under its protections from extinction.

But the Trump administration’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service recently announced massive rollbacks to the rules governing the Act’s implementation. They will have profound effects in the Northwest and beyond.

The Trump proposal, rolled out by a former lobbyist for the oil industry, couched the changes in soothing terms, describing them as updates that cut through red tape. But a hard look at the specifics shows how radical the changes really are. They would eviscerate crucial protections for species that are already on the verge of vanishing forever.

One of President Donald Trump’s rollbacks would weaken the consultation process that helps prevent harm to endangered animals from federal agency activities, turning what should be a hard look at issues like drilling for oil or clear-cutting forests into a rubber stamp.

A second set of changes would make it much harder to designate critical habitat for endangered wildlife. That’s incredibly dangerous: All animals need a place to live, and imperiled species with federally protected critical habitat are twice as likely to recover as those without, according to an analysis by my organization, the Center for Biological Diversity.

The new rules would make it especially hard to designate critical habitat in areas not already occupied by an endangered species. If such measures had been in place in the 1970s, we would likely have lost the bald eagle, which nearly vanished from the lower 48 states before the Endangered Species Act — and habitat protections — helped these magnificent birds soar back to vitality.

If Trump’s changes would make it impossible to save the next bald eagle, do we actually still have an Endangered Species Act?

Perhaps worst of all, a third change would gut nearly all protections for wildlife newly designated as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

 

A Monarch butterfly (Amy Sancetta / AP, 2007)
A Monarch butterfly (Amy Sancetta / AP, 2007)

The monarch butterfly, for example, may soon get threatened status because its population has plummeted some 80 percent over the past two decades. But with Trump’s proposed changes, this threatened butterfly would get almost no protection. The monarch would have to be on extinction’s doorstep before safeguards kick in.

Let’s be clear: This isn’t some tinkering aimed at curbing bureaucracy. The Trump team has launched an all-out attack on vital safeguards for our most imperiled animals.

And these proposals aren’t driven by popular demand. A recent poll by Ohio State University researchers — released the same day as the Trump proposals — found that the Endangered Species Act is supported by more than 4 out of 5 Americans, including 74 percent of conservatives.

The real motive is clear: The Trump administration, captured by industry, wants to make it as easy as possible for big business to drill for oil, mine for coal and cut down our forests without taking modest measures to protect endangered wildlife.

 

An airplane flies over the Porcupine Caribou Herd in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
An airplane flies over the Porcupine Caribou Herd in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

These changes would, for example, make it easier to move forward with oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Here in the Pacific Northwest, Trump’s proposals could mean the end of the road for species like the southern resident orcas, which need immediate action to increase their favorite food, chinook salmon, in the form of removing the Snake River dams.

By making it harder to preserve our increasingly fragile web of life, these extreme subversions of America’s most successful conservation law will make our region — and our nation — a lonelier, sadder place to live.