“As the current administration has a track record of opportunistically exploiting and degrading our land, water, wildlife and people, we are continuing to track federal regulations that if passed will undermine wildlife conservation efforts, repeal clean water protections and further contribute to the biodiversity crisis.” said Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO, Jamie Rappaport Clark. “During this unprecedented time, Defenders of Wildlife remains ever-vigilant to protecting wildlife and their habitat.”   

Washington, DC

6 Ways We’re Defending Wildlife During a National Emergency
 
As the world is “social distancing” amid a global pandemic, Coronavirus Disease-19 (COVID-19), and communities across the U.S. are living in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance, Defenders of Wildlife is carrying on remotely.  At this very moment, it is especially vital that we remain vigilant to guard against any effort by the Administration and Congress to exploit the current national emergency to harm wildlife and their habitat.

At the time of President Trump’s recent national emergency declaration, the Interior Department and other federal agencies were already contemplating a long list of potential anti-wildlife actions. None are consistent with what science and well-respected scientists are telling us.  These proposals require careful scientific and legal review by the public, independent scientists and environmental organizations.  All require a close and deliberative, transparent review that cannot occur in the current national emergency. The public and government officials responsible for these actions are rightly focused on protecting their families, their communities and responding to the national health emergency. That’s why Defenders of Wildlife has joined with other organizations in calling on Interior Secretary Bernhardt to suspend major policy changes and public comment periods for the immediate future.

But will the Interior Secretary listen?

“As the current administration has a track record of opportunistically exploiting and degrading our land, water, wildlife and people, we are continuing to track federal regulations that if passed will undermine wildlife conservation efforts, repeal clean water protections and further contribute to the biodiversity crisis.” said Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO, Jamie Rappaport Clark. “During this unprecedented time, Defenders of Wildlife remains ever-vigilant to protecting wildlife and their habitat.”   

With global and national attention focused on COVID-19, there is a growing concern that the administration may use this alarming situation to its advantage to finalize rules and pass legislation that eviscerate vital environmental protections. Here are a half-dozen pending administration actions to watch:   
 
1. Endangered Species Act Regulations: Despite devastating reports of catastrophic species loss, the Trump administration intends to propose additional regulations that will continue to reduce the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) — our nation’s most effective law for saving imperiled wildlife from extinction. The rate of listing new endangered and threatened species has slowed dramatically, and down-listings have increased, an indicator of the administration’s hostility to conservation and its tight relationship with industry. Defenders of Wildlife is keeping a watchful eye on the Department of the Interior’s signaling that they will redefine essential terms of the ESA (e.g., what is “habitat”), make exemptions from critical habitat protections easier, minimize listings on a case-by-case basis, and more. 
 
2. Border Wall Litigation:  In December 2019, Congress unveiled $1.4 billion in funding to build the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico which will fragment vital ecosystems and landscapes, threatening wildlife and people between the U.S. and Mexico which will fragment vital ecosystems and landscapes, threatening wildlife and people. President Trump has illegally redirected billions more in defense spending to the wall construction. Defenders and other environmental groups have requested a U.S. Supreme Court review of federal court rulings that have allowed the Trump administration to waive dozens of environmental, health and safety laws to speed construction of border wall. In an encouraging move this week, on March 17th, the U.S. Supreme Court directed the Trump administration to respond to this petition. Thousands of scientists from around the world agree that building a border wall will be devastating to North America’s biodiversity. 
 
3. The Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule:  The administration reversed a rule in January 2020 to protect streams, wetlands and freshwater bays and the wildlife that call them home. In New Mexico, the replacement rule could leave 90% of our waters unprotected and impact at least 20% of wildlife. Species like the Rio Grande chub, Rio Grande sucker, the northern leopard frog, the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse and the Rio Grande cutthroat trout could lose federal protections for their habitats. In the Southeast, many imperiled species are water dependent. For example, the Carolina heel splitter and dwarf wedge mussels are at the mercy of changes in characteristics of the streams that they occupy. Similarly, the Eastern hellbender and Black Warrior waterdog are fully aquatic amphibians and cannot travel from stream to stream in search of better habitat. Degradation of the waters that these species occupy has a direct effect on their ability to survive in the wild. Other species that Defenders works to protect, including the southern bog turtle, Florida manatee, and migratory birds, would also be harmed by the Replacement Rule. Defenders will fight this irresponsible and dangerous rule in court.  
 
4.  Migratory Birds: The Trump administration proposed formal regulations to cement into law a hotly-disputed legal opinion declaring that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) does not need to protect migratory birds from harm caused by industrial activities. This has dramatically undercut the law’s ability to conserve birds. In February 2020, a bipartisan coalition of 15 former Department of the Interior officials – including former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director and current Defenders CEO and President, Jamie Rappaport Clark -- sent a letter to Interior Secretary Bernhardt condemning its new proposal to lock its damaging and illegal interpretation into regulations. Defenders of Wildlife and partner groups are pushing back against this reckless action in court. 
 
5. Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Responding to a sneaky legislative rider passed in Congress in 2018, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is preparing plans to lease the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the oil and gas industry. News outlets have reported that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said that the final lease sale is “coming soon.” Arctic champion Sen. Maria Cantwell pushed Secretary Bernhardt in a hearing last week on March 10 about the timing of the leasing plan to which he replied that it was not going to be released that same week. We will be ready to push back against this illegal and destructive program. BLM’s actions could jeopardize the survival indigenous culture, wildlife and the future of the most imperiled polar bear population in the world. 
 
6. North Atlantic Right Whales: With fewer than 400 alive today, North Atlantic right whales are one of the most endangered large whale species in the world. Their survival is at the center of a case to stop fossil fuel exploration via seismic blasting, led by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), currently before U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel at the federal courthouse in Charleston. On March 14, 2020, SELC released findings that uncovered clear evidence of political interference with scientific opinion to make it easier for companies to explore for oil and gas along the Atlantic continental shelf off South Carolina and adjacent states.    

Though we are now working remotely from our homes until further notice, Defenders and its partners are actively fighting Trump administration’s actions that imperil wildlife, degrade habitat and threaten communities. We’re in the courts. We’re tracking policy. We’re analyzing science. We’re making sure citizens are aware. While we wait for the COVID-19 threat to pass, rest assured that we are keeping a watchful eye on any effort by the Trump Administration to exploit the national emergency to do lasting damage to wildlife.The pursuit of Defenders of Wildlife’s mission requires nothing less, no matter the circumstances.  

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With over 1.8 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit defenders.org/newsroom and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.

Media Contact

Gwen Dobbs
Gwen Dobbs
Director of Media Relations
gdobbs@defenders.org
(202) 772-0269

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