On Tuesday, while the turmoil of impeachment hearings on Capitol Hill consumed media attention, an important event highlighted the ongoing work of governing our country and the urgent need to continue pushing back against the Trump administration's dangerous rollbacks, in this case of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Endangered Species Act is our nation’s most effective law protecting imperiled species and their habitat.
Tribal and conservation allies came together to host a special briefing for members of Congress on the Protect America’s Wildlife and Fish in Need of Conservation Act of 2019. The “PAW/FIN” legislation -- introduced in both the House and Senate - would reverse the Trump administration’s disastrous attacks on the Endangered Species Act earlier this year. These rollbacks gut implementation of a law that has prevented 99% of listed species from going extinct. One of the most egregious changes is that, for the first time, economic factors will be considered when deciding whether to extend endangered species protections to an imperiled species, instead of basing decisions solely on science -- a clear opening to allow politics to dictate whether to protect a species. If the Trump administration’s rollbacks remain in place, they will drastically undermine the effectiveness of the law at a time when our nation's vulnerable wildlife is desperately trying to adapt to the significant and combined threats of climate change, habitat loss, and pollution.
In recent weeks, the PAW/FIN Act has gained momentum, and yesterday’s briefing was an important step forward for this critical legislation.
"This is a moment for reflection. The fact that we are here today, having to make a case for the importance of preserving endangered species -- and by doing so, the very earth -- offers a stark and sad commentary on the dominant forces of this society,” said Rain Bear Stands Last, executive director of the Global Indigenous Council and senior advisor to the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council.
Imagine Yellowstone without grizzlies and wolves, or our country without our national symbol, the bald eagle. Those iconic animals are here today only because of endangered species protections and recovery efforts. Wolverines, greater sage-grouse, and other imperiled species deserving of the act’s protections could go extinct as a result of the administration’s rollbacks.
“To elevate the influence of extractive industry, this administration has relegated the role of tribal nations in ESA decisions, and further suffocated indigenous voices and disenfranchised tribal communities. This is a treaty violation. Treaties are enshrined with Article VI of the US Constitution, and analogous to the Supreme Law of the Land. Exxon, Conoco-Phillips, Haliburton, Anadarko and the rest were, the last time I looked, absent from the Constitution. So by this action, we have a clear violation of the federal-Indian trust responsibility,” continued Rain Bear Stands Last. (Learn more about the proposal for a Native American Endangered Species Act)
The Endangered Species Act has been incredibly successful. The Trump administration’s extinction plan undermines the spirit and purpose of the law and is a threat to all the species that might one day need it. These rollbacks allow species to slide inexorably toward extinction until it’s too late. But with passage of the PAW/FIN Act, we can stop that from happening. The Sierra Club and our allies are working hard to move this critical legislation forward to passage. We’re also fighting in the courts: Immediately after they were finalized earlier this year, we filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration challenging the Endangered Species Act rollbacks.
In the face of reports warning of the loss of one million species due to human actions and climate change, and revelations that all but one of the US’s endangered species are vulnerable to climate change, now is not the time to reduce protections. The extinction and climate crises are inextricably linked. We must protect large blocks of land to provide connected habitat for wildlife. Those same protected lands can also help mitigate the climate crisis by decreasing existing carbon pollution. Studies have shown that smart land conservation and management practices could offset 21% of US greenhouse gas emissions.
Together, we can continue to be the voice for these species, the habitat they depend upon for their survival, and our climate. Please help by asking your members of Congress to cosponsor the PAW/FIN Act today!