The Trump administration listed fewer animals and plants as endangered or threatened in Trump’s first two years in office than any president since Ronald Reagan when the notorious anti-environmentalist James Watt presided over the Interior Department.
Under Trump, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have listed just 17 species as endangered or threatened, the worst record of protection in a president’s first two years since the Reagan administration protected a dozen species.
“We are in the midst of an extinction crisis, and there is an extensive backlog of imperiled species waiting for protection,” said Elise Bennett, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.
Species that got protection from the Trump administration include Guadalupe fescue, a rare grass found in Big Bend National Park in Texas that doesn’t pose a threat to industry, and ‘I’iwi, a scarlet bird found only on Hawaiian mountaintops that also doesn’t financially threaten industry.
The Trump administration rejected federal protection for more than 50 species such as the Pacific walrus which the Fish and Wildlife Service concluded wasn’t threatened by melting sea ice because they could rest on land.
Watt, who promised that “we will mine more, drill more, cut more timber,” prompted Congress to amend the Endangered Species Act because so few species were protected under his watch. The act has strict deadlines for deciding which species should be protected.
The Center for Biological Diversity recently sued the Trump administration and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt for violating those deadlines in failing to make decisions under the Endangered Species Act for about 24 species of animals and plants.
“Bernhardt and the Trump administration’s highest priorities are corporate profits,” said Noah Greenwald, the center’s endangered species director. “They’re not interested in protecting wildlife like the Franklin’s bumblebee and others that are on the brink of extinction.”
Since the Endangered Species Act was signed into law by former President Richard Nixon in 1973, at least 47 species have gone extinct while waiting for protection. In December, Margaret Everson, the principal deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, rejected federal protection for the Ozark pyrg, a snail originally found in the White River near Cotter, Ark., because it is now extinct.
Bernhardt is trying to strip federal protections for gray wolves. He wrote the legal memo underpinning Republican efforts to weaken protections for gray wolves in 2008 under former President George W. Bush. Red wolves, once found across the eastern United States, are now perhaps the most endangered mammal on the planet, rarer than the world’s 2,300 Bengal tigers in the wild.