11 Threatened Species That Need Protection Under the Endangered Species Act

The legacy of former President Donald Trump is environmental deregulation. Part of that legacy includes delaying protection for 11 species identified as needing endangered status. The Trump administration instead put them on a candidate list. 

In early January, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice of its intent to use then-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt for delaying protection for the 11 species. The Trump administration had the lowest rate for listing species since the Endangered Species Act passed. The Obama and Clinton administrations listed an average of 45 to 65 species a year, respectively. 

A backlog of endangered species

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed a plan to address the backlog of more than 500 species waiting for listing. Every year since, the FWS failed to make dozens of findings from the plan, according to the Center for Biological Diversity’s intent to sue notice. That notice includes 30 species in 2017, 78 in 2018, 46 in 2019, and 58 in 2020. There are perhaps thousands of species in the U.S. that need protection under the ESA to avoid becoming extinct. That includes more than 500 petitioned species waiting for 12-month findings from the FWS. As the formal notice put it, “There is no explanation for the very small number of species that received protection in the last two years.” 

“The Trump administration’s undermining of the Endangered Species Act puts the monarch butterfly, eastern gopher tortoise, and hundreds more plants and animals at risk of extinction,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “For newly nominated Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to successfully save these species from extinction, it will require more money for endangered species, new leadership at the Fish and Wildlife Service, and a renewed commitment to science and following the law.”

The 11 species need to be the first ones the Biden administration lists

The 11 species cited by the Center for Biological Diversity’s formal notice are the monarch butterfly, eastern gopher tortoise, Peñasco least chipmunk, longfin smelt, Colorado Delta clam, three Texas mussels, magnificent ramshorn snail, bracted twistflower, and northern spotted owl. These 11 threatened species need to be among the first the Biden administration lists as endangered. A closer look at each species reveals why they are in desperate need of listing as endangered. 

Monarch Butterfly

The monarch butterfly travels 1,200 to 2,800 miles or more from the U.S. and Canada to Mexico. They have the most evolved migration pattern of any butterfly or moth and maybe any insect. Climate change is a threat to the monarch butterfly’s migration pattern because weather conditions in its wintering grounds and summer breeding grounds could be affected. 

Eastern Gopher Tortoise

The eastern gopher tortoise is native to the Southeast in the U.S. Gopher tortoises in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama (west of the Mobile and Tombigbee rivers) are protected as threatened under the ESA. However, those in eastern Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina lack protection. 

Peñasco least chipmunk

The Peñasco least chipmunk occurs in two populations in the White and Sacramento mountains in southern New Mexico within the Lincoln National Forest and the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation. They prefer ponderosa pine forests, and logging, livestock grazing, and fire suppression have altered their preferred habitats. 

Longfin Smelt

The longfin smelt is a small fish along the Pacific coast of the U.S. from Alaska to California. Listed as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act in 2009. The FWS found the San Francisco Bay-Delta Distinct Population Segment needed protection under the federal ESA, but never listed the fish. 

Colorado Delta Clam

Once teeming in the Colorado River estuary in the Gulf of California in Mexico, the Colorado Delta clam has drastically declined due to reduced Colorado River flows from the U.S. The clam has been waiting for protection since 2019.

Texas Mussels

Three Texas mussels (Texas fatmucket, Texas pimpleback, and Texas fawnsfoot mussels) need protection. Zebra mussels, a non-native species first identified in Texas in 2009, threaten the native Texas mussels. 

Ramshell Snail

Found in freshwater ponds along the North Carolina coast, the magnificent ramshorn snail has existed only in captivity since 1993. 

Bracted Twistflower

The bracted twistflower is the wildflower of Austin, Texas. All but three of the populations of this wildflower are on private land that is either being developed or is likely to be developed. Houses now sit where the wildflower used to live. 

Northern Spotted Owl

The northern spotted owl is one of three spotted owl subspecies. The loss and degradation of its habitat and competition with the barred owl threaten it.

The Continued Attacks On Environmental Protection By Lame Duck Trump

As the Trump administration winds down, the environmental rollbacks continue and even seem to increase. The air, water, soil, human health, and animals are not exempt. What matters most to the people running the federal agencies charged with protecting the environment is industry, namely the fossil fuel industries. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt worked as an oil lobbyist. Many of his decisions serve as handouts to his former clients or others in the industry. 

Ignoring the Marine Mammal Protection Act

Environmental groups continue to fight for environmental protection. The Center for Biological Diversity sent a notice of intent to sue to the Interior Department and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for not updating population analyses for polar bears, walruses, sea otters, and manatees, as required by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). The notice letter asks for immediate updates for expired stock assessments of polar bears, Pacific walruses, three stocks of northern sea otters in Alaska, the southern sea otter stock in California, and two stocks of West Indian manatees around Florida and Puerto Rico.

The MMPA requires the FWS to do stock assessment reports for all marine mammals within its jurisdiction, and that includes polar bears, sea otters, walruses, and manatees. Some of the stock assessments have not been updated in over a decade. Stock assessments are key to managing marine mammal populations. With them, threats to marine mammals are analyzed and guide management actions for industries, including commercial fisheries and oil and gas. Failure to update stock assessments harms the very animals the FWS serves to protect. 

“It’s no accident this administration refuses to update stock assessments for polar bears and other species highly vulnerable to oil spills. Trump is again ignoring his legal obligations as a favor to Big Oil,” said Lalli Venkatakrishnan, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is about good science. The feds must know how marine mammal populations are doing before allowing any harm to these animals from oil and gas activity and other threats.”

Opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge up to the oil industry

The notice comes as the Trump administration rushes oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Trump administration takes handouts to the oil industry to a new level, making the George W. Bush administration look like one that protected the environment. Recently, the Trump administration issued a “request for nominations” to oil companies, asking them to identify their preferential areas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain to lease for oil drilling.

The Arctic Refuge is considered sacred land to indigenous groups. “The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is sacred land that sustains not just the Gwich’in and Iñupiat Peoples but is one of the last untouched ecosystems in the world,” said the director of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic (SILA), Siqiñiq Maupin, in a statement

Five of the six major U.S. banks (Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo) have announced that they will not fund any new oil and gas development in the Arctic Refuge. President-elect Biden stated he will make permanent protection for the Arctic Refuge and other federal areas impacted by the Trump administration’s policies a day one priority. In other words, expect Biden to issue executive actions regarding federal lands.


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The Trump Administration Roll Backs of Migratory Bird Protection

Rolling back protections of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is an example of the corruption and obsequious deference to Big Oil by Trump & Co.

How do you change environmental laws to favor fossil fuel and mining industries without Congress? You gut regulations by having federal agencies issue a new rule. It is a move President Trump loves to make. In four years, the Trump administration has rolled back more than 125 environmental protections. Even now, dozens more are in the works. 

The most recent new rule by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service involves migratory birds. On February 3, 2020, the FWS published a new rule to clarify the ban on the “take” of birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The proposed rule states that the scope of the MBTA applies only to intentional injuring or killing of birds, but conduct that results in the unintentional injury or death of migratory birds is prohibited. The FWS published an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in June and in November and announced the publication of the final EIS

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act: Doing the Bidding of Big Oil

The new rule is a major rollback of the MBTA just two months before Joe Biden takes office. Big Oil drives the move gutting the MBTA. Tellingly, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt is a former oil lobbyist. At least 17 of Bernhardt’s former clients received handouts from the Trump administration during his time as Interior Secretary, according to research by Western Values Project. Excluding incidental killings of birds from the MBTA shields oil companies from liabilities and penalties. The rule would “likely result in increased bird mortality,” as the final EIS acknowledges. But that does not matter as long as Bernhardt’s oil industry cronies are happy. 

Western Values Project obtained a request by Western Energy Alliance, submitted to the FWS “suggesting statutory changes to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.” The Independent Petroleum Association of America, Berhardt’s former client, had inside knowledge of the pending rollbacks, the documents also revealed.

“Trump just keeps solidifying his legacy of the worst environmental, public lands, and wildlife presidency in history. This is yet another gift to Big Oil by corrupt Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on his way out the door. Bernhardt puts yet another favor for Big Oil before the needs of small businesses and workers during a pandemic, illustrating “everything that is wrong with the Trump administration and its priorities,” said Western Values Project Director Jayson O’Neill. 

The rollbacks of the MBTA extend protections to industry activities that kill birds. If the rollback was in place in 2010, BP would not have faced consequences under the MBTA for the more than one million birds killed in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. BP paid $100 million in fines thanks to the MBTA protections recently weakened. 

Why so many oppose the rollbacks

There is bipartisan opposition to the MBTA rollback, including from congressional members, more than 25 states, tribal governments, scientists, and 250,000 people who submitted comments opposing the rollback. 

One reason for the opposition is that the Trump administration sped up the environmental review process by minimizing the comment period and did not do a thorough analysis of environmental impacts and reasonable alternatives. “This environmental review process has made a mockery of the public engagement and scientific review required under the law,” as David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society stated.

Another reason for the opposition is that migratory birds need full protection. Three million birds in North America have been lost since 1970. Climate change threatens two-thirds of North American birds. Oil waste pits kill 500,000 to one million birds a year, which means the Trump administration extended protections to an industry responsible for so many bird deaths. 


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What Will President Biden’s Environmental Policies Look Like?

Now that the electoral college voted for Joe Biden as the next president, it’s time to consider his environmental policies. They will definitely not look anything like Donald Trump’s policies that opened the nation’s air, water, and soil up to fossil fuel companies to exploit. 

Biden’s first days in office will certainly include undoing the damage of Trump’s policies. He has pledged to reinstate the U.S. commitment to the Paris climate accord. Biden will not need Senate approval since the U.S. involvement with the accord was set up by an executive action

A 100 percent clean energy economy and net zero-emissions by 2050

Achieving a 100 percent clean energy economy and net-zero emissions by 2050 is one of the key parts of Biden’s environmental policies and climate change plan. Using the federal government procurement system, which spends $500 billion annually, as a driver to meet the 100 percent clean energy goal is one of those measures. Making U.S. government buildings, facilities, and installations more efficient and environmentally-friendly is another measure. 

Biden’s plan recognizes that transportation is a key sector as it is the fastest-growing source of climate pollution. He pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in several ways. One of those ways is by using the Clean Air Act. Another way is developing new fuel economy standards to ensure 100 percent of new sales for light and medium-duty vehicles will be electric.

Protecting nature

Biden’s environmental policies include a climate change plan committed to protecting nature. The exact opposite of President Trump’s administration. Instead of offering up public lands to fossil fuel and mining companies, Biden pledges to protect biodiversity, slow extinction rates, and conserve 30 percent of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030. Biden’s plan also includes protecting areas impacted by President Trump’s executive actions. The president-elect vows to permanently protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other areas that face environmental destructions due to Trump’s policies.

He pledges to ban new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters and create programs to enhance reforestation and develop renewables on federal lands and waters. He has a goal to double offshore wind by 2030. 

Investing in clean energy, energy efficiency, and electric vehicles

Biden’s environmental policies also include pledges to make a federal investment of $1.7 trillion in clean energy over the next 10 years. He also pledges to leverage private sector and state and local investments to total more than $5 trillion in investments. This summer, Biden mentioned the $90 billion investment the Obama administration made in clean energy. “We’ll do it again, but this time bigger and faster and smarter,” Biden said. “We’re not just going to tinker around the edges. We’re going to make historic investments that will seize the opportunity and meet this moment in history.”  

The Biden plan will incentivize clean technology deployment in several ways. One of those is by improving the energy efficiency of the nation’s buildings. He pledges to set a goal of reducing the carbon footprint of the U.S. building stock by 50 percent by 2035. Part of that includes directing the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to make housing for low-income communities more efficient and directing the U.S. Department of Energy to redouble efforts to accelerate new energy efficiency standards for household appliances.

Biden pledges to accelerate the deployment of electric vehicles. One of the barriers to accelerating the deployment of EVs is the lack of charging stations. Biden’s plan includes working with governors and mayors to support deploying more than 500,000 new public charging outlets by 2030. He will also restore the full EV tax credit.

The next great railroad revolution

Biden’s plan includes starting the second great railroad revolution. The first part of his plan is bringing higher speed rail to the Northeast Corridor.

He pledges to shrink the travel time from Washington, D.C. to New York by half. He also pledges to make progress on California’s high-speed rail project, start constructing end-to-end high-speed rail across the Midwest and West, and begin construction of a high-speed rail system that will connect the coasts. 


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The Financial Case For Valuing Nature

Species extinction is accelerating at an unprecedented rate, according to a report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Since 1900, the average abundance of native species decreased by at least 20 percent. Over 40 percent of amphibian species, nearly 33 percent of reef-forming coral, and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. 

The massive disruption of nature occurring affects humanity. The health and well-being of plants and animals are tied to human health and well-being. A 2013 study found “ample evidence…that nearly every dimension of human health is being affected” by damaging nature, while a 2007 study found that climate change and other changes to nature pose threats to human health. 

While benefits to human health are clear, is there a financial case for valuing nature? Approximately $44 trillion of global GDP, more than half of the world’s GDP, depends on nature and its services, according to a recent report by the World Economic Forum. The three largest sectors that are very dependent on nature (construction, agriculture, and food and beverages) combined generate nearly $8 trillion of gross value added (GVA). That is about twice the size of Germany’s economy.

Some examples show how valuing nature makes financial sense. The global loss of all pollinators would cause a decrease in annual agricultural output of about $217 billion.  Recent climate research puts a value on carbon captured of up to $600 per ton, which implies a value of forests of over $100 trillion.  Up to one-third of the medicines used today were found originally in plants and other natural substances or derived from naturally occurring substances.

Valuing Nature: Governments must pave the way

The estimated biodiversity financing gap between $598 billion to $824 billion per year over the next ten years can be bridged, according to a recent report by The Paulson Institute, The Nature Conservancy, and the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability. 

Closing the nature financing gap depends heavily on government actions, which means governments must do more to protect nature. Governments need to implement policy reforms such as reforming harmful agricultural subsidies. Governments must also create new financial innovations to increase funding for conservation, promote green investments, and support the development of nature-based climate solutions. 

While the private sector plays a crucial role, governments need to put the right regulatory framework in place, plus incentives and market structures to drive the flow of finances from the private sector into conservation. The only way to stop global biodiversity loss is to ensure that all economies value nature. Accomplishing that goal requires bold political leadership, transformative policies, mechanisms, and incentives that discourage harmful actions and encouraging large scale-finance. 

The report recommends policy actions governments can take immediately to close the nature financing gap. One of those policy actions is protecting their natural capital and expanding biodiversity conservation financing. Other policy actions include using funds strategically to implement the financing mechanisms the report identified and strengthening regulatory and financial enabling conditions to significantly accelerate actions and finance in the private sector for biodiversity conservation.

“While the public sector is crucial, the analysis and recommendations in Financing Nature highlight that there is a realistic pathway for the business and finance sector to go from being part of the problem to being a critical part of the solution to biodiversity loss,” said John Tobin, Professor of Practice of Corporate Sustainability at Cornell University and an authority on biodiversity finance, in a statement.


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Giving Rights to Nature

Does nature possess basic rights? It may seem like a strange concept to grant nature the same fundamental rights that a person possesses. A report by the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, Earth Law Center, and International Rivers looks at how places around the globe adopt laws giving rights to rivers. 

“Rights of Nature” is the concept that nature possesses basic rights, just as humans do. The concept arises from indigenous traditions that view humans as part of nature rather than separate from it. Although the concept is new in Western societies, the report notes that it is rapidly developing. “Most Rights of Nature legal precedent has emerged in the last 12 years as a direct response to the failures of modern environmental law to adequately address the escalating ecological crisis,” the report states. 

A rights of nature approach looks at nature as possessing basic rights that can be established by defining nature through legal terminology such as “subject of rights” or as a rights-bearing entity.” It gives nature legal standing that can be defended in court and creates duties for people to act as guardians of nature. Many of the rights of nature laws create a group or entity that is legally bound to uphold the rights of nature.

The rights of nature movement occur at a time when the deterioration of ecological systems happens dramatically. A report by the UN in 2018 found that 20 to 30 percent of assessed species are likely to be at an increased risk of extinction with a temperature rise of 1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius. With a temperature rise of 3.5 degrees Celsius, the rate of species facing extinction is 40 to 70 percent. A 2019 report found that human activity drives mass extinction and global biodiversity loss and warned that “transformative change” is needed.

Bodies of water face a crisis, with seven to 77 million people expected to experience water stress due to climate change within this decade. Rivers are a central focus within the rights of nature movement. River systems globally face extreme pressure, with many suffering over-exploitation. Freshwater vertebrate species are declining more than twice as face as land-based and marine vertebrates. 

“The laws we have are not rising to the threats we face. Legal structures that treat rivers and nature as an object for human exploitation are enabling today’s crises,” said Monti Aguirre, Latin America Coordinator at International Rivers. “A Rights of Nature approach offers transformative change at a time where it could not be needed more.”

The U.S. and the Rights of Nature movement

Although in 1972, Justice William O. Douglas suggested the possibility of giving rights to nature in a dissenting Supreme Court decision, the report notes that the movement has gained little traction on a national level. However, it gained traction on a local, tribal, and state level. 

Among Native American tribes, the movement has seen its most success in the U.S. That is good for the movement. Native American rights of nature statutes stand a better chance of withstanding lawsuits due to the greater sovereignty Native American law possesses. 

At least six Native American tribal jurisdictions enacted laws giving rights to nature. Within the Navajo Nation tribal code exists a statute that “all creation from Mother Earth and Father Sky to the animals, those who live in water, those who fly and plant life have their own laws and have rights and freedoms to exist.”

The Yurok Tribal Council recognized the legal personhood of the Klamath River (located in the northwest) in 2019. The tribe passed the resolution as a reaction to the river’s decreasing salmon runs. The resolution declared that the river has the right to “exist, flourish, and naturally evolve; have a clean and healthy environment free from pollutants; to have a stable climate free from human-caused climate impacts, and to be free from contamination by genetically engineered organisms.”

The Nez Perce General Council passed a resolution in 2020 recognizing the rights of the Snake River. The resolution establishes that the Snake River “and all the life it supports possess the following fundamental rights, at minimum: the right to exist, the right to flourish, the right to evolve, the right to flow, the right to regenerate, and the right to restoration.” The resolution calls for the development of a legal body to represent the river’s rights and interests.


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World Wildlife Day | Saving Our Own Humanity

The Peace of Wild Things - Photo by Gary Bendig

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
– Wendell Berry

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