With Endangered Species Act Under Attack, Obama Manages to Score 99 Wildlife Wins
by MARY ELLEN KUSTIN –
As part of a final-year push to tackle major environmental challenges, the Obama Administration appears to be doubling down on its efforts to slow and reverse the declines in American wildlife populations.
Though the United States has enacted and implemented some of the world’s most effective wildlife conservation laws, one in five animal and plant species in the United States — nearly 1,300 total species — is at risk of extinction.
Through a recently released Council on Environmental Quality white paper, the Obama Administration calls attention to the challenges facing U.S. wildlife and identifies 99 milestones in wildlife conservation that it has achieved over the past seven years.
Among these 99 “wildlife wins,” the White House is highlighting the recovery of the Louisiana Black Bear — a species that originally inspired the phrase “teddy bear.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the bear’s population recovered in March of this year, marking an outstanding comeback from only 150 bears alive two and a half decades ago.
According to leading ecologists, the race to save wildlife from extinction will depend in large measure on society’s efforts to conserve large, contiguous natural areas. Famed ecologist E.O. Wilson, for example, posits that in order to save 84 percent of species on earth from extinction, humans must preserve 50 percent of habitat areas: a half for us, half for them proposition.
Only seven percent of land in the United States is permanently protected, however, as defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The U.S. has committed to a goal of protecting at least 17 percent of land areas by 2020.
President Obama has made progress toward reaching this goal by creating or expanding 23 new national monuments. These monuments collectively help conserve more than 265 million acres of land and water — more than any other administration in history.
The administration, however, faces opposition to its land, water, and wildlife conservation efforts from some Members of Congress. Anti-conservation members have unleashed 100 legislative attacks on the Endangered Species Act since the start of 2015, according to Defenders of Wildlife president and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark.
“Nearly three-fourths of American voters believe that decisions about which imperiled species receive protection under the ESA should be made by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists, not members of Congress” said Clark in a blog post. “But too many anti-conservation members of Congress have stopped listening to their constituents on this issue — letting extreme politics run amuck in a process that should be based on the best available science.”
Amid the congressional efforts to undermine the Endangered Species Act, new data shows that wildlife habitat in the American West is rapidly disappearing.
Between 2001 and 2011, the West lost a football field’s worth of open space every two and a half minutes, according to a new report by the Center for American Progress and Conservation Science Partners.
Rapid growth of infrastructure — including oil and gas wells, transmission lines, and housing — is causing increased habitat fragmentation. The average distance to human development from natural areas was only 3.5 miles in 2011: down a third of a mile from a decade earlier.