How to bring southern resident killer whales back from the brink of extinction
Wildlife advocacy groups and two state attorneys general vowed to fight the Trump administration’s proposed regulatory change to the Endangered Species Act, arguing that it could threaten species ranging from the California condor to the monarch butterfly and the northern spotted owl.
Under the new regulations, species will be added to the threatened or endangered list “based solely on the best available scientific and commercial information,” which is a much more stringent interpretation of the law than current practice.
The Trump administration says it’s a necessary change to balance economic considerations with the law’s intent to protect endangered wildlife.
“The best way to uphold the Endangered Species Act is to do everything we can to ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal—recovery of our rarest species. The Act’s effectiveness rests on clear, consistent and efficient implementation,” said Interior Secretary David Bernhardt in a statement.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross added in a statement that, “The revisions finalized with this rulemaking fit squarely within the president’s mandate of easing the regulatory burden on the American public, without sacrificing our species’ protection and recovery goals.”
Groups including Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity condemned the proposal, which would change how animals are added or removed from “endangered” or “threatened” status.
“It’s probably the biggest attack on endangered species and the (Endangered Species Act) in history,” said said Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “No species will get closer to recovery as a result of these changes.”
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra joined Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in signaling they’d sue the Trump administration over the change. “We’re ready to fight to preserve this important law,” Becerra said.
The regulatory change will go into effect 30 days after appearing on the Federal Register, which is expected to happen this week, according to The New York Times.
On Monday, Defenders of Wildlife released a graphic showcasing some of the threatened and endangered species that it says could be adversely impacted by the rule change. There are also several species not yet on the list which could benefit from protections, Hartl said.
Though not listed as threatened or endangered, the American wolverine is rapidly vanishing from a range that spans from California to Washington to Wisconsin to New Mexico, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
There are fewer than 500 American wolverines left in the wild in the Lower 48, according to the center.
“Unfortunately, in the contiguous United States, this tough scavenger-predator is barely holding on,” according to the center. “Trapping and habitat loss have been dramatically shrinking its populations for more than a century, and now it’s faced with new human threats like snowmobiles tearing through its habitat and, worse, global warming threatening the deep snow it relies on.”
Listed as endangered, the California condor often is hailed as a success story of the Endangered Species Act.
“When the last free-flying condor was taken into captivity in 1987, the population was at an all-time low of 22 individuals,” according to Defenders of Wildlife.
Though once nearly extinct, there are now more than 400 condors in the wild, according to defenders.
Still, the birds remain threatened by lead poisoning, which is still the leading cause of death for adult California condors.
Though listed as endangered across much of the country, the wolf has been de-listed from the Endangered Species Act in the Rocky Mountain region that includes Idaho.
There are approximately 1,700 wolves in the region stretching from Montana and Wyoming in the east to Idaho, Oregon and Northern California in the west, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Today wolves occupy less than 10 percent of their historic range and continue to face persecution,” according to the Center.
In 2016, the monarch butterfly count was 42 million. That might sound like a lot, but in the mid-90s, that count was 1 billion.
“Monarchs across North America have declined by more than 80 percent over the past 20 years,” according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
The population decline is largely attributed to both loss of habitat — the destruction of groves where the butterflies winter — and the loss of its key food, milkweed.
Monarchs are not listed with the Endangered Species Act, though the federal government is considering a petition to add the species to the list. That decision, which could be affected by the regulatory change, is expected by 2020.
Northern spotted owl
Listed as threatened, there are believed to be no more than 2,500 breeding pairs left in the wild, in a range that spans the Pacific Northwest from Northern California to British Columbia, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
“A popular symbol of the decline of Northwest forests, the medium-sized, chocolatey-brown northern spotted owl depends on the old-growth forests that once stretched in an unbroken ribbon from Alaska to California — forests that are now a ghostly memory of their former selves,” according to the Center.
With the regulatory change announced Monday, it could be harder to successfully designate critical habitat to protect the birds from logging efforts, Hartl said.
Southern resident orca
Listed as endangered, there are just 73 of these killer whales left in the wild, according to Defenders of Wildlife.
“Populations of chinook salmon, their primary prey, have declined and resulted in orca starvation,” Defenders said in a statement. “Defenders advocates for salmon habitat restoration and promotes reduction in marine pollution.”