As world's scientists raise extinction alarms, Trump guts Endangered Species Act

As world's scientists raise extinction alarms, Trump guts Endangered Species Act
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This week hundreds of scientists from more than 50 countries published an exhaustive report for the United Nations finding that as many as 1 million species are at risk of extinction. Their disturbing conclusion: The life-support systems we depend upon are unraveling. 

Despite this incredibly dire warning, the Trump administration and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt are working overtime to undermine protections for our nation’s most imperiled plants and animals.

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Just days ago, Bernhardt proposed weakening protections for the highly endangered American burying beetle, including exempting the oil and gas industry from protecting the beetle’s habitat in Oklahoma. 

The darkly cynical reasoning behind this move is that climate change will cause the beetle to go extinct in Oklahoma no matter what. Therefore, the idea goes, we might as well let the oil and gas industry — the cause of climate change — do whatever it wants.

America’s wolves are also in Trump’s crosshairs. In March, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced plans to strip gray wolves of Endangered Species Act protection across the lower 48 states. The proposal will allow trophy hunting and trapping in some areas and essentially end wolf recovery in the United States. 

Worse still, Bernhardt and crew have proposed a wholesale revision of the regulations implementing the Endangered Species Act. If finalized, these changes will make it much harder for species to gain protections in the first place. They’d also weaken protections for imperiled wildlife’s habitat.   

It’s hard to imagine better examples of the UN report’s finding that “economic incentives generally have favored expanding economic activity, and often environmental harm, over conservation or restoration.” 

Produced by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, the report makes clear that ongoing logging, pollution, overfishing, looming climate change and other factors threaten not just species, but our very way of life.  

This is because the many species headed for extinction — from elephants to spotted owls — are the parts that make ecosystems work. And these ecosystems, in turn, produce services that make our own lives possible. 

Wetlands act as sponges during periods of heavy rain, reduce the impacts from floods and absorb pollutants. Yet, roughly 85 percent of the world’s wetlands have been plowed under or paved over.

Coral reefs protect shorelines from extreme weather and support fisheries. But they’ve declined by more than a third because of climate change-induced bleaching, pollution and other factors. 

Birds, bats and bees that pollinate the food and flowers we grow are facing extinction because of habitat destruction, pesticides and disease.

Losing these ecosystem services and others, from carbon storage to climate moderation, would be catastrophic for everyone, everywhere. 

The report makes clear, however, that all is not lost. With greatly expanded protection of natural areas, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and improvements in our food systems, we can save nature — and ourselves. 

Noah Greenwald is endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity.