When I traveled to Yellowstone more than a decade ago on a bucket-list trip for which I’d longed for years, I found such tremendous beauty in seeing moose, buffalo, and even a bald eagle in their natural surroundings. They were so impressive in the mostly pristine wilderness and I could not help but think that this was how these breathtaking creatures had lived for centuries and centuries.
That is, at least until the 19th century when America’s Europe-descended human population began killing vast amounts of wildlife in the West for purposes ranging from fashion to the entertainment felt by some people that — for some reason that completely escapes me — enjoy shooting them.
As some species’ populations began to plummet, the U.S. government stepped in to give safe harbor to animals whose numbers were dropping to dangerously low levels, such that extinction seemed a possibility. In 1973, the Endangered Species Act was passed in a bipartisan manner by Congress and signed into law by President Nixon. The legislation also covered plant species.
If only the same across-the-aisle cooperation and zeal for stewarding our environment existed today. Unfortunately, regulation-slashing Republicans, led by President Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, have launched an aggressive attempt to roll back rules set forth by the Act.
The Trump administration seeks to weaken regulations including requirements to protect habitat critical to endangered and threatened species as well as to neuter the permit process that businesses must go through if they apply to engage in commercial activity on such habitat.
In addition, numerous GOP bills, including the Interior Department appropriations bill, contain provisions designed to gut the Act’s safeguards. Right-wing legislators are proposing ways to hasten removing animals from the lists of endangered and threatened species and making it difficult, if not impossible, to sue the federal government to enforce the Act.
Finally, U.S. Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming last month introduced draft legislation that could virtually render the Act null and void. The primary threat of Barasso’s dangerous bill is turning over to the states the decision-making power on how to assist endangered species. Such a change, according to environmental and animal advocates like the Endangered Species Coalition, may, in effect, allow the industries eager to run roughshod over habitat — oil and gas, big agriculture, real estate development, etc. — a far greater ability to wield power over outcomes that could potentially never be reversed.
The Act has saved species like the grizzly bear, American alligator, and even our beloved national icon, the bald eagle. When I was child growing up in Northern Virginia in the 1970s, I don’t ever remember local sightings of the eagle but, these days, they are a much more common occurrence.
Let’s not let short-term profits for already-large and greedy corporations hold sway over the God-given heritage of our regal indigenous wildlife. Help these species thrive throughout our purple mountains’ majesty and other U.S. natural landscapes — even as our human population explodes and continues encroaching on animal habitat.
Once these creatures go, they go forever. So, it is vital that people who care about our country’s wildlife and its environment contact Senators Kaine and Warner, and ask that they tell Trump, Zinke, Bernhardt and others to stop their salvos against endangered and threatened species.
The author, who lives in Springfield, volunteered with the Endangered Species Coalition this summer.