While climate change has captured the focus of the United States political consciousness – at least so far as the US political consciousness is even concerned with the environment – there is another very important and bitterly divisive environmental issue that is brewing. This issue is endangered species.
It all started in April, 2011, when Congress took gray wolves off of the endangered species list in Montana and Idaho. Gray wolves had been on the endangered species list in these states since 1973, when the Endangered Species Act, or ESA, was passed. This act sets federal guidelines that pertain to any animal or plant on the list. By taking the gray wolf off of the list, the opponents of the gray wolf undermined the ESA and scored a political and legal victory.
The opponents of the gray wolf primarily include ranchers, hunters, and those in charge of development. Ranchers seek a lower wolf population because wolves are known to occasionally eat their animals. Hunters dislike wolves because wolves will often eat the prey of hunters. Developers hold animosity towards the gray wolf because so long as protections are extended to the wolf, they cannot develop and profit as much. Now, with the environmental protections out of the way, all of these groups are happy. The only problem is the wolf can now, once again, be driven to the brink of extinction. This, of course, is a big problem not only to the wolves, but to the ecosystems of which the wolves are a small part.
Worst of all, this delisting of the gray wolf has set a terrible precedent for other counties, states, and for the entire United States. Now, other animals and plants have become vulnerable to either being delisted or simply not being allowed to be put onto an endangered species list at all. Why would anyone do this? Primarily, it’s about greed. Money is at stake. For instance, those who stand to profit from the building of dams are eager to get fish that would be endangered by those same dams removed from endangered species lists. Once this is done, dams can be built cheaper and easier. The electricity generated from them can be sold. The diverted waters, useful for agriculture, can also be sold. This means much money is won or lost depending on what fish, animal, or plant is protected by the ESA.
In our crippled economy, developers’ voices – which promise limitless sources of jobs and incomes for everyone – sound especially enticing. Never mind that by tearing the fundamental and natural world out from under our feet the sustainable survival of humanity is also put into jeopardy. Never mind the facts that systems theory has shown us: that if you destroy one node of an ecosystem, you threaten the entire structure of the ecosystem and every other species that forms a node within that ecosystem. The stakes are high and developers are eagerly waiting to see if they will be allowed to cast their bets – – with Mother Nature as collateral.