Lawyer up, animals!

August 22, 2019 12:29 am

A bald eagle in flight at Chippokes Plantation State Park. (Virginia Department of Natural Resources)

By Diane Roberts

Remember back when some Americans thought Barack Obama was the antichrist, hell-bent on wrecking everything from the oil industry to Christmas?

Good times!

Compared to Donald Trump, Obama was an amateur. The haystack-headed Current Occupant is much more convincing as a Destroyer of Worlds, as is his minion David Bernhardt, secretary of the interior, who was, until very recently, a lobbyist for the Independent American Petroleum Institute, Cobalt International Energy and Halliburton.

Bernhardt’s new jam? Gut the Endangered Species Act.

What Republicans insist on calling the “updated” ESA began under Ryan Zinke, Trump’s ethically-challenged former interior secretary, who was forced to resign over – among other things – a dodgy land deal he cut with the CEO of Halliburton. Bernhardt, Zinke’s former deputy, declared his intentions last year in a Washington Post column stiff with Big Bidness buzz words: “transparency,” “efficiency,” and “unnecessary regulatory burdens.”

Translated from the original Corporate, it means that the ESA and its beach mouse-hugging, brown pelican-loving, black-footed ferret-favoring aficionados need to shut up and get with the capitalist program.

Ever since President Richard Nixon signed the ESA into law in 1973, the act has helped save such critters as grizzly bears and bald eagles, key deer and whooping cranes, humpback whales and manatees – around 1,650 species in all. (See here for a list of Virginia’s endangered and threatened species).

Now the Trumpists plan to run a bulldozer through the ESA, making it harder to protect what’s left of our flora and fauna.

While they’re at it, they’ll dump that pesky language which said science, “without reference to possible economic or other impacts of determination” should govern whether a plant or animal should be listed as endangered.

Science: So overrated. So unprofitable.

Instead, Interior will consider the “economic impact.” In other words, an estimate of revenue “lost” from a ban on logging or mining or ranching or building on wild territory must be taken into account when considering a species for inclusion on the federal list.

The Lesser Prairie Chicken, currently designated as “threatened” (one step below “endangered”), lives in the path of the planned Keystone pipeline, which Trump is determined to see built. The bird (actually a member of the grouse family) had better get itself an attorney.

The Florida panther needs to lawyer up, too. It’s officially endangered, with only 100-200 left alive, but some landowners complain that the big cat interferes with  plans to build new subdivisions bang in the middle of its habitat.

Who do you think will win in Trump’s America, wild charismatic megafauna or a bunch of developers who’ll undoubtedly contribute to his re-election campaign?

It gets worse: The ESA’s new rules will also disregard the effects of climate change on species whose homes may disappear out from under them. The ESA has always protected potential habitat as well as existing habitat: the catastrophic loss of sea ice, for example, means that polar bears may have to move to areas that will no longer be off-limits to human depredation.

That will probably finish them off.

In May, a deeply-researched UN report revealed that we humans are changing the natural systems of the planet so rapidly and violently that 1 million plant and animal species could soon become extinct.

Biodiversity, food and clean water are all linked. Preserving land preserves the balance of the ecosystem and the source of food and water for much of the world. Lose that, and what white people think is an immigration crisis now will increase exponentially as climate refugees flee dying lands.

No wall will be high enough.

Does short-term money really count more than the planet’s long-term health?

Do Republicans really want to embrace the death of so many living things?

Maybe a few will find the courage to resist Trump’s nihilism.

Diane Roberts is an eighth-generation Floridian, who has been writing for newspapers since 1983. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American and Flamingo. She has been a long-time columnist and editorial board of the St. Petersburg Times and Tampa Bay Times.  She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC.

This column first appeared on the Florida Phoenix

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