Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Of Grey Wolves and Bald Eagles

                   Our Nation's Symbol: Once Again in Danger of Extinction?

                   Our Nation's Symbol: Once Again in Danger of Extinction?

On June 20, 1782 Congress voted to make the Bald Eagle the symbol of the United States of America.  The Founders chose this particular bird because of its long life, great strength and majestic looks, and also because it was then believed to exist only on this continent. To most of the Founders, the Bald Eagle represented unlimited freedom.  Alone among this august body, Benjamin Franklin pushed for the Turkey for the new nation's national symbol.  Franklin railed against the Bald Eagle, writing "For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. . . . . Besides he is a rank Coward."  Despite Dr. Franklin's opposition, an image of the "rank coward" soon would adorn gold and silver coins as well as the nation's Great Seal. Sadly, by the early 1960's there were, at best, only 415 breeding pairs left in America's Lower 48 states due to the effects of the insecticide DDT. This deadly poison accumulated in their bodies and made the shells of their eggs so weak that, in trying to incubate them, they would instead crush them.  Miraculously, as of last year  the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reports that there are currently 10,000 breeding pairs of Bald Eagles in the Lower 48.

So what brought back our nation's noble symbol from the brink of extinction . . . along with such other creatures as the grizzly bear, the grey wolf and grey eagle, the whooping crane and the American alligator?  

A 45-year old law enacted virtually unanimously by both houses of Congress called The Endangered Species Act.  That's what did it. This seminal act represents a commitment by the American people to work together to protect and restore those species most at risk of disappearing forever, partly by blocking ranching, logging and oil drilling on protected habitats.  Recent polling shows that 84 percent of the American public supports the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and 87 percent agree that it is a successful safety net for protecting wildlife, plants, insects, and fish from extinction. Horrifyingly, the ESA is currently undergoing a full-frontal assault not seen in decades by the Trump Administration, along with its Republican-controlled Congress and vast coterie of pro-business, anti-ecology lobbyists.  This assault is being driven in part by the fear that the Republicans will lose ground in November’s midterm elections and no longer be in a position to do the bidding of their deep-pocketed mega-supporters who care far, far more about profits than planet earth.  According to a recent article in the New York Times"In the past two weeks, more than two dozen pieces of legislation, policy initiatives and amendments designed to weaken the law have been either introduced or voted on in Congress or proposed by the Trump administration. The actions included a bill to strip protections from the gray wolf in Wyoming and along the western Great Lakes; a plan to keep the sage grouse, a chicken-size bird that inhabits millions of oil-rich acres in the West, from being listed as endangered for the next decade; and a measure to remove from the endangered list the American burying beetle, an orange-flecked insect that has long been the bane of oil companies that would like to drill on the land where it lives."  During the 2016 run for the White House, '45 made it crystal clear that when elected (narcissists never put things inthe conditional tense - if) that he would make deregulation - the loosening of not only environmental protections but banking rules,  fuel efficiency standards  and fair housing enforcement — a centerpiece of his administration.  One thing you've got to give him: he's a man of his (or his backers') word.

Since being signed into law by then-President Richard M. Nixon in December, 1973, the ESA has provided common-sense, balanced solutions for government agencies, landowners, and concerned citizens to conserve endangered wildlife and their habitats. The Act included three key elements:

       • Preventing listed species from being killed or harmed

       • Protecting habitat essential to these species’ survival

       • Creating plans to restore healthy populations

Sensible and effective? Generally speaking yes.

The product of a bunch of wild-eyed, Socialist-loving tree huggers who put the survival of snails and beetles above the legitimate profits of business?  Not even close.

But now, if Congress, the administration and the lobbying class have their way, federal departments will be forced to factor in the cost of abiding by the ESA in their budgets.  For quite a while, Congressional Republicans have argued that following the ESA's mandates are overly costly, take away jobs from working class Americans, and make it increasingly difficult for ranchers, loggers, fishermen, miners and oil drillers to turn a profit . . . and all at the expense of a snail, lizard or plant.  Besides being a mendacious characterization, the fact is that the Trump Administration has been severely slashing budgets for the EPA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency and Dept. of the Interior (all of which deal with ESA issues) since early 2017.  But the administration has filled many executive branch positions with people who, in their previous lives, worked or lobbied for those businesses which most want to see the ESA go the way of the buffalo. As but one example, David Bernhardt, the Deputy Secretary of the Interior (who is most responsible for responding to the ESA for his department, is a former oil lobbyist and lawyer whose legal clients included the Independent Petroleum Association of America. Moreover, before getting into politics, his boss, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke sat on the board of an oil pipeline concern . . . the same Ryan Zinke who has over the past year been increasingly opening up federal lands for oil, gas and mineral exploration and extraction.

One can argue that the Endangered Species Act also plays a large and positive role in efforts to deal with global warming.  Many of the lands which come under ESA scrutiny produce oil, gas and coal - which are largely responsible for poisoning our atmosphere, warming our oceans and eroding climatologcal protections. Those who argue that the right for individuals, companies and corporations to make a profit takes precedent over a "supposedly" endangered fish, animal or plant are self-delusional.  What good can a large and diversified portfolio do anyone on a super-heated planet?  How can tens of billions of personal or corporate dollars save you from rising tides, unbreathable  air or a dramatically declining zoological biome?  Simple answer: it cannot.  To where do you plan to move?  Star base 74 orbiting the planet Tarsas III in Sector 001?

The current administration - largely through executive orders - has shown itself to be hauntingly insensitive to the natural world.  As but one example, back in 2015, after an American trophy hunter killed a beloved lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe, the Obama administration made it nearly impossible to import African lion trophies into the country. (This was under terms of the Endangered Species Act.) Now, according to documents obtained by the advocacy group Friends of Animals, the Trump administration has issued more than three dozen permits to bring lion trophies back to the U.S. Turns out, the overwhelming majority of those hunters are mega donors and fundraisers for the Republican Party. Where is the humanity?  Lions and whales and grey wolves and bald eagles were occupying this planet long before homo sapiens.  And within our genus, we are the only ones who haven't become extinct.  There's a lesson to be learned here: a planet which becomes inhospitable to oh so many species may eventually become inhospitable to all . . . including us, the so-called "Crown of Creation."

By law, the Department of the Interior (DOI) is required to consider public input before advancing any plan to gut the ESA.  Contact your member of Congress (whether he/she is a Democrat or Republican) and make it known in no uncertain terms that you won't vote for anyone who favors dismembering the ESA; that you only support those who put the planet over profit.  Then too, do connect with the DOI and tell them that the purpose of government is not to do the bidding of their donors, but to do what is best for both the nation and the world.  A good group for this endeavor is Friends of the Earth.  This is not an either/or situation; ultimately, it's about living in harmony with all creatures, both great and small.

The bald eagles will thank you and so will our great, great grandchildren . . .

556 days down, 917 days to go

111 days until the midterm election!

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone