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.


Photo by NOAA on Unsplash

New Rules In California Protect Endangered Whales and Sea Turtles

In a sea of bad news, we welcome any good news. Out of the golden state, comes that bit of good news we all need. The state of California recently took action to protect sea life. 

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (Department) released a new rule to reduce the risk of marine life, including endangered whales and sea turtles, becoming entangled in commercial Dungeness crab gear. The new rules went into effect on November 1, 2020, and apply to humpback whales, blue whales, and Pacific leatherback sea turtles.  

lawsuit and severe increases in whale entanglements prompted the state to enact the new rule. The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in 2017 after whale entanglements off the California coast broke records for three years in a row. In 2016, of the 29 cases where the gear could be identified that entangled, 22 were commercial Dungeness crab gear from California. Humpback whales were identified in 17 of the cases and one leatherback sea turtle was found dead and entangled in rock crab gear. The lawsuit led to an agreement in 2019 with the state to end the last two crab seasons before the spring whale migration. 

“It’s good to see California finally taking whale entanglements seriously,” said Kristen Monsell, the Center’s oceans legal director, in a statement. “This new system should reduce the risk crab gear poses to whales and sea turtles. But we’re disappointed that officials didn’t do more to encourage conversion to ropeless gear, which is the only way to truly eliminate the threat of entanglement for these ocean animals.”

The danger of Dungeness crab traps

Fish harvesters catch Dungeness crab with circular steel traps on the seafloor. Bait in the traps attracts the crab and the traps capture them. The thick ropes connected to the commercial Dungeness crab traps entangle whales and sea turtles, injuring and killing them. The ropes cut into the flesh of the whales and turtles, causing them to drown. When whales become entangled in crab gear, they often end up trailing fishing gear behind them, which can sever appendages. Around 75 percent of whale entanglements are fatal. Entangled sea turtles can drown from being anchored to the gear. 

Dungeness crab traps are the most common gear identified in entanglements off the West Coast. The state’s new Risk Assessment and Mitigation Program evaluates the necessity of mitigation measures like shortening the season or closing an area to crab gear to reduce entanglements.

Protecting endangered marine animals

California’s new rules protect endangered marine animals off of the state’s shores. In 1970, the U.S. federal government listed humpback whales as endangered under the Endangered Species Conservation Act, and under the Endangered Species Act in 1973. Known for their long flippers, humpback whales are still protected as endangered in four out of the 14 distinct population segments, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The longest animal on earth, the blue whale has a heart the size of a Volkswagen Beetle and weighs up to 200 tons. The loudest animal on earth, the blue whale is louder even than a jet engine. First listed as endangered in 1970, the blue whale is protected by the ESA throughout its range. 

Named for their shells which have a texture more like leather than hard like other turtles, leatherback sea turtles are the largest sea turtle species. Pacific leatherbacks migrate from the Coral Triangle to the California coast. Their global population decreased by 40 percent over the last three generations. All leatherback populations are protected under the ESA. 

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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