Chicago notched a win for an endangered species this summer as Great Lakes piping plovers Monty and Rose nested at Montrose Beach and successfully launched two offspring, with the help of many watchful volunteers and one canceled music festival. Elsewhere, news was dire for struggling species and their habitats.
July was equal to or warmer than the hottest month ever recorded on planet Earth. Eleven billion tons of ice melted off the Greenland ice sheet in a single day. The United Nations biodiversity report recently warned that 1 million species of animals and plants are vulnerable to extinction, some within just decades, because of development, climate change and other causes.
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How does the Trump administration, which already has a dismal record on the environment, respond? By clubbing the Endangered Species Act, which has been widely popular with both Democrats and Republicans since it was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1973. The act protects more than 1,600 species and is credited with saving iconic wildlife including the bald eagle, grizzly bear and California condor.
Industries including oil and gas, agriculture and ranching resist limits on their activities. This move by David Bernhardt, secretary of the interior and a former oil industry lobbyist who came under an ethics investigation days after he was confirmed to the job, puts their interests paramount.
The Trump administration had already slowed the pace of new additions to the protected list. Under the new rules, economic cost can be taken into account when the federal government weighs protecting a struggling species. Conservationists — and Congress, which has specifically stipulated that cost not be a factor in deciding whether to protect an animal — want such decisions made on the basis of science alone, the AP reported.
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The Chicago Tribune editorial board has supported efforts to help landowners as well as wildlife when disputes arise, while accepting that saving endangered species is vital but not free. The newspaper’s board believe the gray wolf should remain protected in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin, which now have nearly 4,000 wolves, rather than being subjected to a slaughter that could devastate their revived population.
Illinois has a variety of animals and plants on the threatened and endangered list, including birds, bats, mussels and one crustacean (the Illinois cave amphipod, since you asked; picture a white prawn or crayfish). Not every protected creature is as iconic as the polar bear. But all life is connected.
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Indeed, the move by the Interior Department contrasts starkly with the warning issued by UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay along with a biodiversity report in May. “We can no longer continue to destroy the diversity of life. … We can and must all mobilize, urgently and together, to save our planet and thus humanity.”
Democratic leaders and presidential candidates immediately pounced on Trump for gutting wildlife protections, while states and conservation groups promise to sue. Putting the nation’s most vulnerable species in the crosshairs at a time of environmental crisis isn’t a winning position, nor a tenable one.