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Issue #1801      November 1, 2017

Culture & Life

Who needs biodiversity?

Everyone is aware that the ongoing catastrophe called the Trump Administration affects not only the people of the USA. Its brutal foreign policy of aggression and subversion also affects the people of most of the rest of the world. This is well known. What is not so well known is that Trump’s domestic policies also impact on the rest of us, sometimes with devastating results.

The Pacific walrus is imperilled by climate change and should be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Conscious that President Trump and his faithful team not only put profit before everything else but also regard science as merely a hindrance to the real business of government, helping the rich to get richer, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has denied protection to no less than 25 species of wildlife endangered by global warming. Of course, the Donald doesn’t believe in that either.

In announcing its decision, the FWS asserted – with disarming honesty – that its staff had conducted “a thorough review of the best available scientific and commercial information.” Guess which of those two carried the most weight with an administration that puts profit before all else?

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at US organisation the Centre for Biological Diversity (CBD), is under no illusions about where Trump stands on biodiversity: “You couldn’t ask for a clearer sign that the Trump administration puts corporate profits ahead of protecting endangered species,” he commented.

“Denying protection for these 25 species despite the imminent threat of climate change and ongoing habitat destruction is typical of the Trump administration’s head-in-the-sand approach,” added Greenwald.

Australians can’t afford to be smug about this, mind you. Not while we still give space to politicians like the odious Tony Abbott, another notorious climate change denier. People like Abbott and Trump are only interested in science if it can cause big explosions or in some other way destroy the enemies of free enterprise. And the definition of the enemies of free enterprise includes all those misguided folk who want government to pay for programs – such as wildlife protection – that do not have an obvious capacity for producing private profit.

In 2011 the FWS agreed that the Pacific walrus was imperilled by climate change and should be protected under the Endangered Species Act. But that was under Barack Obama and the Democrats. The Republicans, who put Trump in the White House, have a different agenda. As far as they are concerned, the Endangered Species Act is simply a commercial inconvenience, something that gets in the way of making profits or which interferes with their personal pleasures, like shooting wild animals (“big game”).

CBD climate science director Shaye Wolf declared – “This disgraceful decision is a death sentence for the walrus. Walruses face extinction from climate change, and denying them critical protections will push them closer to the edge.”

In Australia, our tourist industry uses the attraction of whale watching along the East coast and the admittedly relatively small-scale profits from that “industry” to put pressure on our conservative federal and state governments to prevent whaling in Australian waters. Unfortunately for Shaye Wolf and the CBD, taking tourists to spot walrus does not produce big bucks for the Alaskan and Canadian tourist industry so they have little clout. As little as science organisations or environmental groups, in fact.

However, taking advantage of what they see as the political pendulum swinging to the right, the Republicans in Congress have approved a raft of bills that CBD warns “would ... condemn hundreds of species to extinction.” No doubt the Republicans will say their measures are going to stop “wasteful expenditure”.

The Republicans want to trim the lists of endangered species by the simple expedient of changing how animals are listed as endangered in the first place. In future, under the bills the Republicans have introduced, government will be forced to give consideration to the “economic costs” of protecting endangered species. They are also going to give precedence in future to “scientific analysis” submitted by state or even local government, even when Federal agencies have more accurate information.

Not content with that, they are also preparing to limit the ability of US citizens to file lawsuits regarding endangered species and, most telling of all, to limit protections for what they call “exotic game species.” So, it might be rare, it might even by critically endangered, but if its head would look good on your wall, Republicans think it should be OK for you to shoot it. (Just the kind of legislation you would expect in the gun-crazy USA, right?)

US wildlife and conservation authorities, and the National Parks Service, have in recent years had success in reviving the fortunes of the previously maligned and misunderstood wolf. As scientists finally began to understand the crucial role of the top predators in maintaining the health of the much more numerous prey species, wolves have been successfully reintroduced into habitats from which they had been driven out by indiscriminate hunting.

Graziers have an understandable antipathy towards predator species, but these days enlightened graziers are aware of the necessary role of predators in maintaining the overall health of grazing flocks, whether wild or domestic. That is a hard lesson for some graziers to learn however, or it goes against their basic belief that anyone (human or wild animal) that takes a bird or a rabbit or a blade of grass from “their” land is engaged in theft.

The Republicans, however, are more interested in looking after the interests of these unenlightened graziers than those with an awareness of science. Gun nut hunters also carry more weight with them than people who try to show that grazing animals fare better where predators are carefully – scientifically – controlled, not destroyed. Typically, the new bills would remove all protection for grey wolves in the western Great Lakes region.

And, of course, it’s not only wildlife that suffers. “The Trump administration’s reckless denial of climate change not only harms the walrus and the Arctic,” observes Shaye Wolf, “but puts people and wildlife everywhere in danger.”

And that affects us all.

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