The Endangered Species Act, our nation’s cornerstone wildlife protection law, is under assault by the very people who are tasked with implementing it. In the last few months we have seen representatives of the administration attack protections for African lions and elephants to serve the interests of wealthy trophy hunters, and remove protections for grizzly bears in the Yellowstone area, among other adverse moves. There are also numerous bills pending in Congress to eliminate or reduce the efficacy of the ESA – for example by wholly exempting all foreign species from protection under the law and by removing protections for wolf populations on the brink of extinction.
Now, a new action by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency puts at further peril endangered and threatened animals in the United States.
The FWS has issued a memorandum prohibiting agency staff from even telling developers when they are required to file for a permit before they begin development projects on properties that could degrade the habitats of endangered and threatened species. According to the Huffington Post, the memo, issued last month by the agency’s principal deputy director Greg Sheehan, says it’s “not appropriate” for staff to tell developers when they need to obtain such a permit — even though it may be required by law in many circumstances.
The situation is pretty simple to understand: the survival of wildlife depends on biologically healthy and intact ecosystems and habitats, and our government should be giving the benefit of the doubt to imperiled species, not to commercial interests. Notification of the requirement to secure a permit is not onerous red tape; it’s a sign of a functional and effective government.
I have written before about Sheehan, who is closely associated with Safari Club International, a membership club for American trophy hunters. In March, Sheehan greenlighted the lifting of existing bans on the import of elephant and lion trophies from certain African countries and signaled that FWS will approve such imports on a case-by-case basis – a decision that the Humane Society of the United States is challenging in federal court.
Last year the FWS prematurely and unlawfully removed ESA protections for grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, leading states in the region to move to open up a trophy hunting season for these great bears.
The FWS has also established an “advisory board” stocked with trophy hunters, giving them a platform to destroy any and all barriers to international trophy hunting and the import of trophy heads and parts by U.S. citizens.
Pandering to commercial interests and reducing transparency has become an alarming tendency for this administration, especially at the Department of the Interior. These furtive and reckless actions put at risk the beautiful wildlife that we all, as Americans, enjoy, cherish and wish to protect. We’ve got to stand up for wildlife, by standing strong against misguided moves by federal agencies charged with the protection of wild animal species.