10 times Trump attacked endangered species—and 3 times people fought back

10 times Trump attacked endangered species—and 3 times people fought back 7

Flickr / Jared Wong

Why do the Trumps hate endangered species so much?

No, really — the people need to know. By now, you’ve probably seen the stories of Trump’s sons hunting everything from elephants to endangered Mongolian sheep.

President Trump’s actions may be less flashy, but they’re much more devastating. Thanks to his administration, animal populations worldwide face increased threats to their survival.

If it seems like we’re exaggerating, take a look at 10 things the Trump administration has done to harm endangered species. And ask yourself: what would things look like if Trump succeeds in stripping protections from the natural world? Do you want to live in a world without sea turtles, tigers, or blue whales? A world with drastically lower levels of biodiversity?

Because that’s where we’re heading. And we only have so long to try to prevent it from happening.

1. Trump tears into the Endangered Species Act—and expects taxpayers to back him up

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In August 2019, the Trump administration announced changes to the Endangered Species Act that environmental advocates say “tip the scales way in favor of industry.” Species classified as “threatened” will no longer automatically receive protections. Instead, they’ll be determined on a case-by-case basis. Officials can also ignore long-term threats to species if they want, focusing only on immediate threats.

And, says NPR, another change will “allow an economic analysis to be done while determining whether a species warrants protection, though that analysis will not be a part of the listing decision.”

If that isn’t bad enough, Alabama taxpayers will be paying up to $30,000 as their state leads the charge to defend the new rules.

2. Rhinos and tigers and… uh-oh: funding for critically endangered species slashed

10 times Trump attacked endangered species—and 3 times people fought back


In 1994, Congress passed the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act. One of its provisions created a fund to allocate up to $10 million annually for projects that help protect those two animals.

The fund has only actually given out an average of about $3.5 million annually. But that money has still supported vital work, like protecting the Sumatran Rhinoceros—of which there are fewer than 100 remaining in the wild.

But Trump plans to slash those funds even further. The proposed budget for fiscal year 2021 would result in funding dropping to $1.575 million, less than half of what it currently is. That’s a loss that critically endangered species really can’t afford.

3. Animals don’t care about your borders

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That wall that Trump has long promised to build cuts across “one of the most biologically diverse regions in North America,” says the endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, Noah Greenwald.

In fact, the wall’s proposed path would impact at least 57 endangered species, 24 threatened species, and even more that are under consideration for protection. It would cut into animals’ migration paths, destroy their habitats, and run through several wildlife refuges. It also breaks 41 federal laws.

Will concern for these animals trump Trump’s racist, xenophobic desire for a border wall? Unfortunately, I’m guessing no.

4. Protections for birds are, well, for the birds

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The Migratory Bird Treaty Act has been law for over a century. But the Trump administration has stripped it of much of its power. It’s now okay if migratory birds are killed as a consequence of people’s actions—as long as the purpose of those actions wasn’t to kill birds. As the Washington Post puts it, if a company knocks down a barn knowing that it’s full of baby owls, they won’t be in trouble as long as killing the owls wasn’t the reason they knocked down the barn.

It’s some impressive mental gymnastics with far-reaching consequences. For example, oil companies will no longer be responsible if their oil spills kill migratory birds.

Bird populations have already declined dramatically since the 1970s. This new ruling could lead to billions of bird deaths in the coming decades.

5. Trump administration kills endangered mussels, benefiting Barr’s buddies

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Flickr / USFWS Endangered Species

Two energy companies wanted to build the beleaguered Atlantic Coast Pipeline through a bed of endangered clubshell mussels. Environmental officials refused, right?

Ha. Nope. First, the Fish and Wildlife Service decided that the pipeline wouldn’t actually jeopardize the mussels’ survival because the population in question didn’t appear to be reproducing. This logic didn’t hold up in court, where it was ruled that the Endangered Species Act still applied even in non-reproducing populations.

So then the Fish and Wildlife Service decided they would just remove the mussels. Most of them subsequently died.

But it doesn’t end there. One of the companies behind the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is Dominion Energy. And who earned millions while sitting on their board? Attorney General Bill Barr. The deeper you look, the worse the story gets.

6. Fewer animals are receiving protections…

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Trump has allowed far fewer animals to receive protection under the Endangered Species Act. Between his inauguration day and December 1, 2019, Trump signed off on just 21 species for federal protections. In the same period during his presidency, Obama approved 71.

A spokesperson for the Fish and Wildlife Service said that almost 75% of petitions to approve animals for federal protections were “not warranted.” But given Trump’s demonstrated antipathy towards protecting species, that’s a claim that should be taken with a grain of salt.

7. …such as the Pacific fisher

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The Pacific fisher is a rare mammal similar to a marten. There are only two significant populations left: fewer than 500 in the southern Sierra Nevada, and a few thousand in the northern California/southern Oregon region. Previously, both populations were considered “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

In May 2020, the fishers in the Sierra Nevada officially gained “endangered” status, which is great news! Unfortunately, the ones in northern California have been denied all protections. This is in spite of the fact that the fishers face existential threats like logging and toxic pesticides.

Said the conservation director of Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, George Sexton,

The declining Pacific fisher population in the Klamath-Siskiyous faces more risks than ever and needs real protections now if the species is to survive.

8. Exploiting Alaska

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Trump supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He’s gone so far as suggesting that banks who don’t support arctic drilling should be investigated.

But according to an environmental impact statement from the Bureau of Land Management, drilling in the ANWR could lead to extinctions. The statement notes that 69 of the bird species in the area are at particular risk for extinction, though currently only two are considered endangered.

At the same time as Trump plots to open the ANWR, his administration is moving forward with Project Willow, a gas and oil extraction operation in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reservation. This endeavor threatens migratory birds, polar bears, and caribou.

Even worse, the Bureau of Land Management held the last two hearings on the project over Zoom while people were distracted with the coronavirus crisis. The communities affected are largely composed of Native Alaskans, many of who do not have reliable internet access.

9. Fishing restrictions loosened

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The delta smelt is a small, endangered fish living off the California coast. Trump’s administration is trying to relax its protections. If they succeed, water could be taken from the smelts’ habitat. It would then be transferred to be used for agriculture. That’s why farmers have long lobbied to get rid of the protections.

The scientific consensus for years has been that taking water would be detrimental to the smelt. Scientists came to that conclusion as recently as June 2019. So why get rid of the protections?

Well, the Secretary of the Interior is David Bernhardt. And before he was Secretary, he was the lobbyist for the farmers who want the smelts’ water.

The June findings on the dangers of water removal were never officially released, and the scientists behind it were reassigned. Then a new report came out saying that taking water wouldn’t actually harm the smelt. The Interior Department championed the report, saying it underwent “robust scientific review.”

Luckily, a federal judge has temporarily blocked an attempt to take water away from the California ocean.

10. Trump fails whales

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NOAA Fisheries

Only 33 Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s Whales remain, but they weren’t recognized as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act until 2019.

And now the Trump administration is dragging its heels over helping them. They recently failed to meet a deadline for identifying critical habitat areas for the whales. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) also plans to propose seismic blasting to look for oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico—although they openly admitted that oil extraction threatens the whales.

Luckily, the whales have allies on land. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the advocacy organization Healthy Gulf previously sued NMFS to get the whales listed as endangered. Now, they’re preparing another lawsuit over the Trump administration’s continued failures to protect the whales. If the NMFS doesn’t designate the critical habitats, NRDC and Healthy Gulf will take them to court.

They aren’t the only people standing up to the Trump administration’s assaults on the Endangered Species Act. As dire as his actions are, there’s always reason for hope. Check out what other groups are doing to protect the victims of Trump’s attacks that can’t speak for themselves:

1. States are suing to save the Endangered Species Act

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Remember how Alabama is using taxpayer funds to defend Trump’s attacks on the ESA? Well, luckily, some states are doing the opposite. 17 states have signed onto a lawsuit to keep Trump from weakening the Act. The suit was spearheaded by Massachusetts, Maryland, and California.

Said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra,

We don’t challenge these actions because we want to pick a fight. We challenge these actions because it is necessary. We’re coming out swinging to defend this consequential law. Humankind, and the species with whom we share this planet, depend on it.

2. Trump’s wall won’t go up without a fight

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There are a lot of reasons to oppose Trump’s border wall. Three groups with a history of fighting for environmental justice are taking their expertise and suing the Trump administration over the wall’s potential environmental impacts.

The Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit on May 12, 2020 to prevent further construction on the wall. These groups know what they’re doing: the Center for Biological Diversity alone has already sued the Trump administration half a dozen times over the wall.

3. Alaskan Natives are protecting their homelands

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Flickr / Alan Wu

The Bureau of Land Management mandated that people could only comment on the Willow Project, the effort to expand drilling in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reservation, via the online platform Zoom. But before that happened, Alaskan Natives were organizing to prevent the development, which would disrupt caribou migration and risk endangering dozens of species.

When testimony against the project could be given in person, the area’s Indigenous population turned out in droves to protest. Said one organizer of the Bureau of Land Management, “They didn’t like that we were gathering that people power.” That’s probably a big reason why the meetings turned to Zoom, a technology inaccessible for anyone without an internet connection.

But the Willow Project isn’t the only project that Alaskan Natives are opposing. The Gwich’in, whose homelands stretch across modern-day Alaska and Canada, have been fighting Arctic drilling since 1988. Most recently, they filed a lawsuit demanding transparency over the impacts of the proposed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Coronavirus has made things more difficult, but people worldwide are still fighting to protect endangered animals. Not all heroes wear capes.

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