Grizzly bear

A grizzly bear works its way through the timber in Yellowstone National Park. Wildlife officials say fewer grizzly bears have been euthanized this year in the park compared to previous years.

I find it hard to believe that President Trump and his administration have gutted the Endangered Species Act. That’s like driving your car through the wall of a neighbor’s house and then claiming you have no responsibility for repairing the damage. We humans drive neighboring species toward extinction. We must be good neighbors and repair the damage we cause.

A short list of human-caused problems that threaten neighboring species includes human population increase, habitat damage, industrial development, pollution, unregulated hunting and fishing, introduction of non-native species, and, of course, climate change.

If we acknowledge those problems — and our role in them — it’s clear that to be good neighbors we should fight for endangered species on two fronts. First, we should spend the money needed to recover species already protected. Second, we should confront these human-caused problems so as to prevent driving more species toward extinction.

But the recently announced revisions of the Endangered Species Act go in the opposite direction. The revised rules actually weaken endangered species protections by making it harder to list a new species. The revised rules downplay climate change, making it harder to protect the polar bear and other species threatened by the effects of human-caused climate change. The revisions make it easier for companies to build roads, pipelines, mines, and other industrial projects in areas of critical habitat essential to our neighboring species' survival.

Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt signed the revisions. That fact alone makes me nervous. Prior to coming to Interior, Bernhardt was a lobbyist for industry groups whose profits increase as the protection of wildlife and wild lands decreases.

In his new job, Bernhardt has made it clear that he intends to continue to support the industries he once lobbied for. Just one example: as a lobbyist, Bernhardt spent years fighting to reduce Endangered Species Act protections for the delta smelt even though jeopardizing the smelt could in turn harm other species that feed on the tiny fish. He acted on behalf of a large agricultural group that would benefit from decreasing the protection. Once he became deputy secretary of the Interior, he continued to fight for his previous client and against the smelt. If you want more examples, check out Outside Magazine’s “Bernhardt Scandal Tracker.”

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ESA successes

The administration wants you to believe that the Endangered Species Act isn’t working, that these revisions are necessary. Don’t believe it. Since 1973, the Act has been incredibly effective and has kept 99 percent of listed species — including the bald eagle, gray wolf, grizzly bear, and whooping crane — from extinction. And it has done so even though politicians have consistently refused to appropriate all the money the act needs to be more effective. Imagine how effective the Endangered Species Act could be if we funded rather than gutted it.

The truth is that the revisers don’t want a well funded and strong Endangered Species Act that fixes the damage we humans cause. They don’t care about being good neighbors. To them a strong act means they might not be allowed to drill for oil or gas or build a housing development wherever they please. They might not be allowed to divert water or clear cut a hillside. They might not be allowed to shoot a trophy.

Contact senators

The revisions to the Endangered Species Act have nothing to do with modernizing or improving the Act. Trump and Bernhardt want to let greed run unchecked, regardless of the harm this does to our neighboring species.

I urge you to contact Sen. Jon Tester and Sen. Steve Daines and ask them to overturn these revisions to the Endangered Species Act.

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Rick Lamplugh, of Gardiner, is an award-winning author who writes to protect wildlife and wild lands.


Opinion Editor

Opinion editor for The Billings Gazette.