The election of Joe Biden sparked a wave of optimism in wildlife advocacy organizations that the worst is over, but now that Biden is in office, there are growing concerns he may follow the precedent of recent Democratic administrations of failing to swing the pendulum far enough back toward the environment.
(CN) — Another in a string of lawsuits was filed by conservation groups, prompting questions about whether environmentalists think the Biden administration is moving decisively enough to undue the myriad environmental rollbacks the Trump administration enacted on the way out the door.
“Interior Secretary Deb Haaland was confirmed just last week, so we have to wait and see,” said Noah Greenwald, an attorney with The Center for Biological Diversity.
The Center filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Thursday, saying the Trump administration’s refusal to list the red tree vole, a species unique to Oregon’s north coast, failed to follow the science.
“We hope the Biden administration takes a close look at this politically driven decision, which is nothing more than another gift to the timber industry that ignores science,” said Noah Greenwald, the Center for Biological Diversity’s endangered species director.
For Greenwald and The Center, it’s the latest in a string of suits.
The organization filed one to reverse the Trump administration’s downlisting of the American burying beetle from endangered to threatened, another one to contest the Trump administration’s refusal to designate critical habitat for the rusty patch bumblebee and another Trump approval of a pipeline through the Mojave desert.
The litany of suits reflects the scale of Donald Trump’s environmental rollback program, but may also reflect a growing impatience as the Biden administration decides which holdover policies it wants to undo.
“We’re in a wait-and-see pattern, but Fish and Wildlife has been moribund for a long time,” Greenwald said. “We’re hopeful things will change with Halaand, but leadership at Fish and Wildlife remains the same as it was under the Trump administration and it’s been in place since the Bush years.”
For The Center, the Department of Interior has struggled to fulfill the core of its mission to protect wildlife since the Reagan years, and the administrations of Democratic presidents haven’t done much to reverse the damage.
“Since Reagen, Republican administrations have actively undermined the mission of Fish and Wildlife and other agencies like the EPA,” Greenwald said. “Democratic presidents have kind of let the agencies do their jobs, but they have failed to breathe new life into them to support a strong regulatory mandate.”
Greenwald said The Center hopes Haaland will be that new breath of life, but it’s still to early to tell.
“We still feel like we have to file lawsuits because we are not confident Fish and Wildlife will take a look at dozens of decisions made under the Trump administration on their own,” Greenwald said.
The red tree vole is just one of many.
The vole is a small rodent that lives its entire life in trees and is dependent on the type of old-growth forest that has fallen victim to logging in Oregon’s recent past.
“Clearcut logging has reached record highs across the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests, and recent proposals from the Oregon Department of Forestry seek to explicitly ensure that forests are logged before they can become old-growth,” said Danielle Moser of Oregon Wild.
Because the voles live among the treetops and rarely venture to the ground, they are particularly susceptible to the ravages of logging and forest fragmentation.
Conservation groups initially petitioned the federal government to list the species in 2007. In 2011, the federal government agreed a listing was warranted but precluded, meaning the agency would prioritize other species initially.
The ruling was affirmed repeatedly until 2019, when the Trump administration reversed course.
“Protecting the red tree vole means protecting the few remaining old forests on Oregon’s north coast,” Greenwald said. “This benefits not just the vole, but also hundreds of other plants and animals, clean water and our climate.”
The conservation groups note that the Oregon Department of Forestry is developing a habitat conservation plan, but say the department has provided little information regarding where voles are currently located and the conditions of the forest.
“Oregon’s north coast has been extensively logged, and the old forest that remains exists in small, isolated patches that shelter increasingly vulnerable populations of tree voles,” said Nick Cady, legal director of Cascadia Wildlands.
Courthouse News reached out to the Department of Interior for comment regarding the red tree vole lawsuit, but also the comments regarding Fish and Wildlife leadership and its adherence to its regulatory mission.
The Interior Department has yet to provide comment.