Conservation Priorities for the New Presidential Administration

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.

Conservation Priorities for the New Presidential Administration

Polly Reetz, Conservation Committee Chairperson

After days of holding our collective breaths, the news finally broke: we will have a new President and a new administration. We all hope that this portends an improved, science-based approach to environmental protection, public lands management, and wildlife conservation, and a commitment to environmental justice.

But there is a lot of work to do! Here are just a few items for the new administration to tackle:

Photo by Dick Vogel

1. Restore the protections of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

The Act, passed to implement the Migratory Bird Treaty originally signed in 1918, has for decades been interpreted to protect migratory birds from negligence by companies carrying out actions that may “take” or kill migratory birds; this is called “incidental take” and can often be avoided. The Trump administration issued a legal opinion, followed by a proposed rule, that says that if the intent of a company action is to do business and not to kill or injure birds, those actions will not be prosecuted under the MBTA. This lets industries off the hook for failing to use best management and common-sense practices and practice oversight and accountability for their actions. Under this proposal, BP would not have had to pay mitigation fees after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. While a US District court ruled against the policy, the new administration should rescind the rule and step up migratory bird protections.

2. Protect wetlands and ephemeral and intermittent streams.

The Trump administration revised the Obama-era definition of “Waters of the US” to exclude many previously protected wetlands, ephemeral streams and intermittent streams from protection under the Clean Water Act. (Many of Colorado’s tributary streams are either ephemeral or intermittent, meaning they do not have water in them all year ‘round). The 2015 definition requires permits to alter waterways or discharge pollutants and provides important protections for maintaining downstream water quality and providing viable aquatic habitats for endangered species and native wildlife. The new administration should rescind the new definition of Waters of the US and return to the 2015 rule.

Photo by Dick Vogel

3. Restore the Obama-era National Environmental Policy Act regulations.

The Trump administration’s Council on Environmental Quality revised the National Environmental Policy Act regulations to limit public participation by shortening comment periods, in some cases to 14 days. The new regulations also limit the time frame for writing an environmental impact statement to two years and length to 150 pages. This completely ignores the complexity of modern-day projects and puts pressure on government scientists to complete an analysis within an artificial, arbitrary time frame. The new regulations also expanded the use of the “categorical exclusion” which classifies projects as not extensive enough to require an environmental impact statement, and eliminated the requirement to analyze cumulative impacts – in other words, requiring analysis only on a local scale rather than a landscape-wide scale. These regulations should be withdrawn and the original regulations restored.

4. Ban oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

This refuge contains unique biological, ecological, scenic, recreational, wilderness and cultural values. It is the breeding ground for over 200 species of birds, and provides denning habitat for polar bears and the calving areas of the Porcupine Caribou herd. The coastal plain in particular should not be turned into an industrial complex.

Photo by Nick Rickert on Unsplash

5. Restore the Grand Staircase/Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments in Utah.

President Trump reduced the size of Grand Staircase/Escalante NM, with its amazing paleontological, scenic and recreational resources, by half. Bears Ears, which contains over 100,000 cultural sites sacred to Native Americans, was reduced by about 85%. The original boundaries were worked out with local participation, especially that of Native American tribes in the case of Bears Ears. An executive order under the Antiquities Act could be issued immediately by new administration with the collaboration of Native Americans, and restore both to their original boundaries.

6. Bring back the ban on use of lead ammunition on our National Wildlife Refuges

The Trump administration reversed a ban on the use of lead ammunition for upland and big game and lead in fishing gear on all National Wildlife Refuges (lead shot has been outlawed for waterfowl hunting since the early 1990’s). This puts lead toxins back into the ecosystems, which these refuges were established to protect. The ban on lead should be reinstated.

The new administration should also seek to reduce pesticide use on National Wildlife Refuges, which nearly doubled between 2016 and 2018 to 350,000 pounds on 363,000 acres of crops raised to benefit wildlife on the Refuges.

7. Remove new regulations that weaken the Endangered Species Act.

The Trump administration re-defined “habitat” to prohibit restoration of habitat for endangered species that could allow their populations to expand. It also removed protections for species listed as Threatened under the Act. The definitions and protections need to be reinstated.

8. New leadership at government conservation agencies

The new administration needs to appoint dedicated, competent public servants to lead agencies such as the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management (we opposed William Perry Pendley, a long-time opponent of public lands, as Deputy Director), US Forest Service, and especially the Environmental Protection Agency. And of course, the US Dept. of Interior!

There is much more to do, of course, such as rejoining the Paris Climate Accord and moving forward with measures to reduce and alleviate climate change. We need to keep reminding the new administration and especially our elected Congressional representatives of these urgent conservation needs.

9. Restore protections for the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska.

The Trump administration has proposed to open the magnificent old growth forests of the Tongass to road-building and logging by exempting the Forest from the 2001 “Roadless Rule.” The Tongass’ temperate rainforest supports important salmon runs, bald eagles, grizzly bears, humpback whales, seals, wolves, Sitka black-tailed deer and other wildlife, sequesters nearly a billion tons of carbon, and provides livelihood for 70,000 people, including Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian tribal members. Logging provides less than 1% of jobs there; tourism and commercial fishing, sustained by the spectacular, healthy forest, provide over 12,000 jobs and $500 million in salaries. Restoring the roadless rule to the Tongass would help fight climate change and maintain local economies dependent on intact forest ecosystems as well as preserve priceless wildlife habitat.