President-elect Trump, don’t tamper with the successful Endangered Species Act

For more than a decade, congressional Republicans have waged a relentless attack on the Endangered Species Act, claiming the landmark law is a failure because too few species have been recovered and had their protections removed.

The close of the Obama administration, however, is showing just how baseless those claims are. More animals and plants have been recovered and removed from the list of endangered species under President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaGOP rep: North Korea wants Iran-type nuclear deal Dems fear lasting damage from Clinton-Sanders fight Iran's president warns US will pay 'high cost' if Trump ditches nuclear deal MORE’s administration than under all other presidencies combined, ever since the Endangered Species Act was signed into law in 1973.

From a rare Southern California alpine wildflower called the Hidden Lake bluecurls to humpback whales, species are getting the protections they need, recovering some of their former abundance and being declared recovered.

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Already in 2017 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has found that the lesser long-nosed bat, a rare cactus from New Mexico and a Southwest plant called the gypsum wild buckwheat have recovered enough to have their protections removed or reduced.

As a former field supervisor focused on endangered species recovery for the Fish and Wildlife Service, I’m deeply encouraged by these Endangered Species Act successes. They’ve laid a path that many people, including me, hope Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Trump Jr. declines further Secret Service protection: report Report: Mueller warned Manafort to expect an indictment MORE will follow when he takes office Jan. 20.

If he doesn’t follow that path, he’ll be risking the natural heritage of Americans everywhere.

Clearly motivated by massive contributions from the oil and gas, logging, mining and other extractive industries that feel their bottom lines are threatened by wildlife protection, Republican attacks are out of step with the beliefs of a majority of Americans, who place immense value on their natural wonders and will not sit idly by as animals they cherish are driven extinct.

That’s why the American public has given its federal government the power to preserve such species as the beautiful black-capped vireo, a songbird found to have recovered just last month. The vireo — which lives in Texas, Oklahoma and Mexico — was protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1987, allowing the bird to flourish. Now its population has recovered so much that Fish and Wildlife Service officials believe it can survive on its own.

While the vireo’s news is positive, it underscores the time and effort necessary for full species recovery. This basic fact is lost on congressional Republicans who attack the Endangered Species Act. In most cases it took decades for species to decline to the point of endangerment and will take decades to restore their habitat and ensure their survival.

In reality the Endangered Species Act has saved more than 99 percent of the plants and animals under its protection from extinction and put hundreds on the road to recovery. We now have dozens of success stories about species like the lesser long-nosed bat or black-capped vireo that have come back from the brink, enriching our wild places and our lives.

But some Republicans, such as Rep. Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopHouse Natural Resources chairman pledges to retire after next term Trump's monument plan still shrouded in secrecy Greens threaten lawsuit over potential monument reductions MORE of Utah, want nothing more than to see the Act disappear altogether. In the past five years, congressional Republicans have attached hundreds of riders to spending bills to weaken the law or strip protections for individual species, including the gray wolf, American burying beetle and lesser prairie chicken.

Fortunately most of these legislative assaults have failed. But there are real concerns that under a Trump administration, congressional Republicans will have their way with the Endangered Species Act.

Indeed a bill has already been introduced in the 115th Congress to strip federal protections from wolves from the Great Lakes states and Wyoming, which would expose these majestic animals to state-sponsored hunting and trapping that has already resulted in the killing of hundreds of wolves in Idaho and Montana, where Congress removed protections in 2011.

These concerns are heightened by Trump’s pick of Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke for interior secretary. Zinke has a lifetime voting record of 3 percent from the League of Conservation Voters, representing a record of voting against protections for endangered species, public lands and clean air and water.

All this suggests that for the next four years we’re going to need to fight hard to maintain protections for endangered species.

Loyal Mehrhoff, former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pacific Islands Office field supervisor and chief of the Biological Resources Management Division at the National Park Service, is endangered species recovery director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.