The Endangered Species Act: Uncertainty under Trump

Environmental preservation is an issue that has enjoyed bountiful support across all religions and party lines for more than a century, which is why it’s troubling to see today’s leaders using the Endangered Species Act — a bill championed by Republican President Richard Nixon meant to protect endangered species and their habitats — as a political football.

The previous Congress introduced over 250 amendments, bills, and riders aimed at stripping away provisions of the ESA, such as provisions that would limit lawsuits as a means to maintain protections for species or limit the number of species that can be protected. With the GOP firmly in control of both the House and Senate, it is likely these efforts will be renewed in earnest, and have a much better chance of succeeding. But these direct attacks on the ESA are not the only threat to our wildlife.

{mosads}In light of recent nominations to his administration and their track record, we worry that President Trump is going to establish a precedent of overlooking the best available science and stray even further from his party’s traditional values of conservation in favor of commercial gains.

Trump’s nominee for Interior Secretary, Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), signals cause for concern. As head of DOI, Rep. Zinke would oversee a department that manages hundreds of millions of acres of land, numerous bodies of water, and the countless species of wildlife that inhabit them. He’ll also be responsible for leading the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in developing policies in line with the ESA – a law that he has a history of seeking to dismantle. During his short time in Congress, he has championed expanded oil and gas development on public lands, and moved to exempt agribusiness from ESA regulations.

Most disturbingly, he has led efforts on the federal level to take away protections for some of our majestic species, including wolves and lynx, and voted to block efforts that would have limited the black market ivory trade. He is inheriting a role designed to protect America’s public lands; yet, based on his past efforts to take away protections for endangered species, how can we trust Zinke to stand up to his Republican counterparts as they try to phase out the Endangered Species Act?

Protecting the environment and strengthening the economy are not mutually exclusive — in fact, study after study has shown that permanent protection for our public lands actually drives economic growth. The Bible tells us the story of Noah who was called on by God to build an ark for all species, big and small. The Endangered Species Act is today’s ark. Once again, we must prioritize saving each and every species before disaster strikes and opportunity is lost. This is, in the words of President Reagan, “our great moral responsibility.”

The National Religious Partnership for the Environment’s mission is to educate the public and policy-makers about with it means to uphold this responsibility in our daily lives, and how we can value the importance of every species present on this Earth. To this end, last month on Capitol Hill, we hosted the fourth in a series of roundtables and events on species protection featuring science and faith leaders — and in some instances, endangered animals themselves. The roundtables were an eye-opening opportunity to discuss the factors contributing to the rapid decline of species and how we can work together to move our political leaders to address this crisis.

It’s unacceptable to see lives, human or animal, being lost because of legislative roadblocks and political rivalries. The daily headlines — “Elephants disappearing,” “Bees near extinction,” “Coral reefs dying” — do not grant us permission to write off these calamities as business as usual. Rather, they must serve as urgent reminders that we are standing at a precipice. The path we take now as a nation will determine whether we uphold our charge to be stewards of God’s creation. Do we lose some of these species forever, or ensure that they are destined to be part of the thriving, diverse ecosystem of the future that we’ve envisioned for our children and grandchildren.

At this critical time for our country, it is imperative that people remember that from both a biblical and scientific perspective, a world out of equilibrium is the perfect stage for disaster. If Trump truly plans to “Make America Great Again,” he would be wise to embody his party’s values of common sense and tradition, and return to the days when Republicans stood for preserving our heritage – finned, feathered, four-legged and everything in between.

Cassandra Carmichael serves as Executive Director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, an alliance of four religious organizations and institutions committed to caring for God’s Creation. The Partnership is supported by individual, church, and organizational donations.

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


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