The Trump administration has declined to list 25 animals recommended for protection as “endangered” or “threatened” despite there being ample scientific evidence in support of this. Among those failing to make the cut this time was the Pacific walrus, Barbour’s map turtle, the black-backed woodpecker, Kirtland’s snake and the San Felipe gambusia.
According to a report authored by the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the protection of these animals is “not warranted at this time.”
Much of the attention has been on the Pacific walrus. As noted by the Guardian, back in 2011, this animal was found by the FWS – under the auspices of the Obama administration – to be severely threatened by climate change, particularly when it came to sea ice-based habitat destruction.
Now, the FWS, under the current administration, has suggested that the climate models beyond 2060 are too unpredictable, despite the fact that it has “high certainty that sea ice availability will decline as a result of climate change.” It’s worth pointing out that there may not be any sea ice left at all by this date. The Center for Biological Diversity says the walrus has been given a "death sentence."
In fact, when it comes to most of these 25 species, climate change is mentioned as an antagonizing factor, and one which almost certainly will drive down population numbers. This danger is repeatedly dismissed by the FWS, which relies on the curious notion that unforeseen factors may allow the species to thrive nonetheless.
You would think that species conservation would err on the side of being more cautious than not, in that if there’s a potential threat then it should be acted upon, rather than shrugged off. Even if you aren’t sure what the magnitude of that problem may be, you’d still prepare for it – if, of course, protecting threatened species was, in fact, your priority.
This news comes at a time when the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is itself under threat from a range of bills, which generally aim to undermine the scientific process that gives various forms of life protection. Generally speaking, the motivation for killing it off is short-term economic gains – drilling at sites that are currently inhabited by endangered species – but petty disputes about just a handful of animals could even trigger the delisting of more than 1,000 plants and animals.
Although the public are largely in support of the ESA and the efforts to conserve species, it’s clear that many support conserving animals that have a clear and direct benefit to humans, compared to those that don’t. This means that in the long-term animals that do wonders for biodiversity fail to make the cut for protection, and following little protestation from the public, slowly die out.