Energy & Environment

It will take a nation to combat Trump’s war on wildlife

Getty Images
Bald eagle

Whether it’s peregrine falcons nesting on a skyscraper or foxes denning in suburbia, observing wildlife today may come across as unremarkable. But while the reemergence of wildlife such as turkeys, deer or even bald eagles may appear trivial, just a few decades ago these wild encounters would have been noteworthy. 

Bringing back endangered species is one of our nation’s greatest conservation success stories. Unfortunately, under the Trump administration, our nation is employing disastrous policies that could take hundreds of uniquely American species back to the brink of extinction.

The resurgence of endangered species was not a spontaneous event, but the result of a deliberate mission undertaken by states, the federal government and a number of philanthropic allies. Perhaps the most celebrated is that of the bald eagle, whose numbers had fallen to around 1,000 in the 1970s thanks to DDT and habitat degradation. Three decades later, bald eagle numbers have rebounded to more than 20,000.

{mosads}Many other species beat the odds of annihilation. Elk and bison have returned to the western plains. The gray wolf has returned to Big Sky Country after a 100-year absence. The California condor is soaring once again from Canada to Mexico. The black-footed ferret, once declared extinct, is now thriving in the American prairie once again. 


These iconic creatures were saved through groundbreaking science, daring policy, purposeful environmental management, billions of tax dollars and the profound contributions from thousands of experts. While it may take a village to raise a child, saving an endangered species takes a nation. 

After the disappearance of the passenger pigeon and the ivory woodpecker, the U.S. began sobering to its unsustainable exploitation of our natural resources. The painful lesson that continues to haunt the American conscience is that when species die out, so do the symbols that define us. Furthermore, we destabilize the ecological balance upon which we depend and rob our children of experiencing wildlife in the future.

With President Trump at the helm of our nation’s wildlife ark, we are setting an irreversible collision course toward an environmental catastrophe of epic proportions. Trump’s war on wildlife is powered by a strategy both calculated and brilliant, with five separate pieces building the perfect extinction storm now gathering on the horizon.

The ultimate fox in the henhouse, Scott Pruitt.

The war begins with Trump’s efforts to destabilize the Environmental Protection Agency. His blithe decision to name Scott Pruitt director perfectly captures our president’s disdain and hostility towards the environment. As the Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt regularly supported efforts on behalf of big industry and dirty energy. 

Pruitt’s greatest irony is his unequivocal rejection of the fact that climate change is putting our planet in profound jeopardy. Pruitt is driving the Trump extinction train by attempting to slash EPA’s budget by 31 percent while pushing unprecedented deregulation. Trump also recently signed an executive order seeking to dismantle efforts to manage climate change, including the Clean Power Plan and the moratorium of coal mining on public lands.

Additional deregulatory efforts include reducing carbon emission standards for automobiles, protecting wetlands and dismantling policies for ensuring clean air and drinking water. Trump’s aggressive assault on the federal management of our natural resources is not limited to the EPA, but touches the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Park Service.

Au revoir, Accord de Paris. 

Trump’s cut-and-run dissolution from our responsibilities as a founding member of the Paris Agreement has been condemned by the global community and terminates our standing as an international leader. The ratification of this extraordinary and historic agreement by 195 nations makes tackling climate change an international priority.

A rapidly melting Arctic, rising sea levels, the spread of super storms and globally erratic weather patterns are just a few examples of how climate change is irrefutable and destabilizing. Our exit has made us the pariah of the world, and has allowed chief competitors like China and Russia to fill our leadership void.

Trump’s border wall, a budding calamity of unparalleled proportions.

While there has been much debate on the cultural and economic impact of Trump’s proposed border wall, there has been little discussion on the profound effect it would have on wildlife. The wall would sever the vital artery that is the Isthmus of Panama, which has been the Americas’ most important migratory corridor for more than three million years. According to FWS, the projected 1,254-mile, 30-foot tall wall would threaten around 100 endangered species and impede the migration of more than 100 bird species. Construction of the wall will likely have little supervision, because it largely exempt from all federal, state or local laws under waivers from the Department of Homeland Security’s REAL ID Act.

The wall would obstruct wildlife from migrating to breeding and nesting sites, displace hundreds of species, prevent gene flow, and alter the life sustaining hydrologic cycle. It would seriously disrupt the recovery of two critically endangered species — the Mexican gray wolf and the jaguar — by obstructing and fragmenting critical habitat. With only 113 wolves remaining, the wall would likely doom this remarkable canine to extinction.

Alaskan predators caught in the crosshairs.

In March, Trump enthusiastically signed legislation that terminates the protection of black bears, grizzlies, wolves, foxes, wolverines and all other predators inhabiting national refuges in Alaska. This barbaric resolution allows for these emblematic species to be inhumanely dispatched by aircraft snipers, and allows for the killing of hibernating bears and cubs or denning wolves and pups. This program is not only cruel, but was previously rejected by FWS.      

The claw-back of national monuments. 

As with national parks, monuments enjoy the highest level of protection as some of the most sacred treasures in the country. Trump’s unprecedented efforts to delegitimize and exploit our monuments represent a flagrant disregard and disdain for our most cherished symbols. 

Trump is still in the kindergarten of his administration, yet he represents a threat to the survival of our wildlife never before encountered so early in any previous presidency. While political agendas may ebb and flow and policies come and go, when a species falls preys to extinction, it is erased forever.

Wise management of our natural resources historically rose above the fray of political theater. Unfortunately, in today’s polarizing climate, under an impenetrable cloud of distracting stories, the urgent plight of our nation’s precious natural resources has fallen upon a collective deaf ear.

Trump’s assault on our natural icons was foreshadowed by his battle with a bald eagle during a Time magazine shoot. After being tethered to Trump’s wrist, the eagle leaped off his arm in terror, dangling pathetically with its wings splayed out in desperation. The bird later lunged at the presidential candidate from a perch on Trump’s desk, sending our future leader recoiling backward. 

A creature’s raw emotions of fright, flight and fight are primal, an evolutionary response either to escape or defend against threats to survival. I find myself struck by the dire symbolism rooted in the eagle’s fear and defiance of candidate Trump, and by my sense of foreboding regarding the future of our country’s natural splendor in the hands of President Trump.

Jeff Corwin (@jeffcorwinlive) is an explorer, naturalist and host of numerous wildlife TV series on Animal Planet, Discovery and ABC. He is the author of 100 Heartbeats: The Race to Save Earth’s Most Endangered Species and Living on the Edge: Amazing Relationships in the Natural World.

The views of contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Climate change Endangered species Environment Jeff Corwin Paris agreement President Trump Ryan Zinke

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video