Endangering the future of wildlife

Aside from the commonly discussed issue of climate change, another important part of nursing the environment back to health is conserving the species that live in it. Disregarding that generally held belief, the Trump administration passed regressive changes to the Endangered Species Act in early August that will make it harder than ever to protect our wildlife.

The ESA is a 1973 act meant to aid the conservation of threatened and endangered species. At the time, it had bipartisan backing and still does, with current support from as many as 80 percent of Americans, according to a PBS study. Changes were made in spite of support for the previous ESA.

The modifications to the act will supposedly make it more transparent and modern. However, there was never a need for change—in fact, it has brought 47 species back to their natural numbers and is now protecting  an astonishing 1,600 more.

Additionally, the actual changes have nothing to do with either of the aforementioned reasons. Rather than modernize, they could reverse the positive changes the ESA has made. For example, one modification adds an economic analysis of how much it will cost to save a species to aid the decision of whether or not a species should be protected. The price of saving a plant or animal should not matter—only raw scientific data should. Instead, the administration decided that prices matter more than the environment.

These same values are evident in the next addition, which changes “critical habitats” for species. Instead of taking into account the possible habitat migration from climate change, only the land currently occupied by the species is. Critics believe that this move is tied heavily to mounting advocacy by logging, land development and oil and gas drilling industries to free up more land.

If land that would normally be protected suddenly becomes available to development, endangered and threatened species will have nowhere to go when their current habitat becomes uninhabitable due to climate change, something that is already causing migration around the world.

The last major change to the ESA concerns its protections. Before, threatened species received the same protections as endangered ones. Now, every species requires its own action plan before protection can begin. The plan will have to explain the best course of action in saving that species, slowing down the conservation process. 

This is in direct contrast to the rate at which species will need protection in the near future, as a UN report shows that as many as one million species are at risk of extinction. If this happens, the same report predicts a potential loss of $577 billion in annual global crops from the loss of pollinators alone.

This is ironic considering that one of the initial goals of these changes was to lessen the economic burden of the ESA. The amount of money put toward conservation efforts should instead be viewed as an investment that will save money in the long run.

Despite the disastrous potential effects of the new ESA, there is still hope for the future as wildlife groups and democratic lawmakers fight to undo the changes in court.