(CN) – A leading environmental group has compiled a list of 63 congressional actions introduced in 2017 that they say attack protections for species or undermine the Endangered Species Act.
While the Republican-controlled Congress has made many similar attempts to hamstring protections for imperiled species since attaining a majority in 2011, conservationists say with Trump at the helm many of these actions may now actually make it into law. A marked decrease this year in Endangered Species Act listing actions from the two federal agencies charged with protecting imperiled species also sends an alarming signal, they say.
“The Trump administration is shaping up to be the worst enemy of wildlife and endangered species we have ever seen,” Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity said in an interview. Greenwald’s group is among the most frequent petitioners to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on behalf of imperiled species.
After months of inaction regarding at-risk species, Fish and Wildlife – the agency tasked with protecting land-based species – said last month it had determined 25 species did not warrant Endangered Species Act protection, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
“You couldn’t ask for a clearer sign that the Trump administration puts corporate profits ahead of protecting endangered species,” Greenwald said. “The Pacific walrus, Florida Keys mole skink, eastern boreal toad and 22 other species are now one step closer to extinction. We’re going to challenge as many of these bogus findings as we can.”
Greenwald said his group has filed intent-to-sue notices with Fish and Wildlife for the Pacific walrus and the mole skink, and have submitted Freedom of Information Act requests for the other rejected species as they evaluate their next steps.
The denial of protection for the Pacific walrus, after the Barack Obama administration had already determined that listing was needed, exemplifies crucial differences in the two administrations’ approaches to protecting imperiled species. Climate change and oil development in the Arctic are major factors threatening the walrus, and Trump administration’s perceived denial of climate change and endorsement of oil and gas development, even in ecologically sensitive areas, may be key reasons for the about-face.
“There's really no question that Pacific walrus are threatened by climate change, so denying them protection is absurd and dangerous. The sea ice these amazing animals need to survive is literally melting away,” the center’s legal director and senior attorney Kristen Monsell said in an interview. “The about-face decision to deny the walrus ESA protections reflects nothing but the Trump administration's hostility to wildlife, science and the rule of law. But walruses could vanish forever if federal officials keep ignoring their plight. That's why we're turning to the courts to overturn the denial and help save the walrus from extinction.”
Monsell wrote the 16-page notice of intent to sue, which is as peppered with citations from climate scientists’ research as the group’s 99-page petition to list the walrus was in 2008 – all seemingly ignored by the current Fish and Wildlife Service in denying protection for the walrus.