Sunday, October 2, 2011

"Meh." - Obama and the Endangered Species Act

Good Sunday to you, kind and benevolent people of the interwebs. As you read this, I am on a boat miles off the coast of California, racking up some pelagic delicacies and maybe even getting a life bird if I am lucky enough. Today's bloggage will be a break from the standard bird-hemorrhaging goodness I usually offer, as I feel, every once in a while, we must keep it real.

Let's talk about Obama. That's a pretty divisive name to be throwing around, inducing all kinds of emotions in all kinds of people. I would make the case that between his ethnicity and the likes of the well-oiled Fox News propaganda machine, he is probably the most poorly understood president that we have had in many years. Mention him to either very liberal or very conservative Americans and it is quite possible you may illicit the same reaction.

I did not vote for Obama. In my eyes, the Democratic Party has never done enough for health care, the massive disparity between the country's rich and poor, keeping the country out of needless wars (and completely ignoring events like Rwanda's genocide), and most importantly for me, the environment. They may not be as blatantly beholden to corporate interests and Big Oil as the Republican Party, but to think that those connections are not there is best.

Still, I was pretty happy when he got elected. He was left-leaning, he was a hell of a lot better than than the McCain/Palin alternative, and he wasn't an old white man! Compared to the dark ages of the Bush Regime, the possibilities his leadership could offer seemed endless for everyone, from gay rights proponents to the environmental movement.

We tree-huggers followed Obama closely. Early on he repealed some last minute Bush regulations that were made to weaken the Endangered Species Act, and government scientists could finally get down to business and cease pretending that climate change was not happening. A whole suite of Hawaiian plants and animals were added to the Endangered Species List. But since this strong start, he has done very little to win the hearts and minds of environmentalists.

His administration's more recent scorecard is unimpressive. Despite the horrific Deepwater Horizon oil spill, he claims to be open to oil drilling and development. Gray Wolves were allowed to be removed from the Endangered Species List by an act of the Republican Congress, which sets a frightening and awful precedent. Earlier this month he delayed improving smog regulations, overruling the Environmental Protection Agency. Although he has passed important legislation regarding funding green technology and improving emissions standards, he has utterly failed at producing a binding agreement that specifically targets the looming spectre that is climate change, both domestically and with other nations.

One of the most important pieces of legislation to environmentalists and birders alike (the two are often not the same) is the Endangered Species Act (ESA). If not in place, dozens of species would currently be facing an inevitable slide toward extinction at the moment, rather than making the slow crawl back to a self-sustaining population. Have you seen a Bald Eagle? Yes? Thank the ESA.

Of course, saving a species requires a lot of time, money, and effort, and the ESA has always been under fire from Republicans since setting aside land for wildlife is not good for business. The major loophole that has been used to address this (i.e., to avoid adding new species that require strict protection) is the Endangered Species Candidate List. This is a list of plants and animals that the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS, who oversees management of listed species) acknowledges may warrant protection by the ESA, but for whatever reason (lack of resources, political pressure) has not really dealt with at all. Included are species like Band-rumped Storm-Petrel, Sprague's Pipit, Kittlitz's and Xantus' Murrelets, and Lesser Prairie-Chicken. This list has grown longer and longer over the years, now numbering 252 plant and animal species and populations. Essentially, these species simply sit in legal limbo, receiving little protection while populations continue to dwindle towards nothing.

After legal action by several environmental groups, the administration is finally moving forward and FWS is doing formal reviews on multiple species (this is what must happen for a species to be listed), for both species on the candidate list and off (i.e. Golden-winged Warbler). The San Francisco Chronicle has some good information on the subject, as does Fish and Wildlife, which you can read about here and here. If we are lucky, and Obama doesn't cow to Republicans (which he is annoyingly prone to doing, it seems....moderation my ass), a slough of species may be getting the protection they deserve by election time.

FWS has already begun the listing process for Red Knots (just in time...their Atlantic population crashed by a third last year) and recently listed Loggerhead Turtle as well. All positive signs for some of our most imperiled wildlife. Lets hope the administration grows a pair and gives some more species the protection they need!

Sorry for the relatively dry post's not all rainbows and unicorns and cupcakes and candy canes in the fact, it's a pretty shitty scene for a lot of critters. Please remember to vote in as many local and national elections as possible...this is the easiest and most direct way most of us have to affect change, and as far as the environment is concerned, inaction is not acceptable any longer.


  1. The only good thing about voting for Democrats anymore is that it prevents Republican governance.

    That's hardly a feather in their collective cap.

  2. I'm so glad you wrote this and brought up the grey wolf. In Montana there is a quota of 220 animals. In Idaho it's open season with no limits. And thanks also for mentioning the Bald Eagle. I was attending Uni in Ohio when they were on the list. When I left Ohio, there were a hell of a lot more breeding pairs nesting than there were when I first arrived. If I dwell on how things are today, I just get pissed off. I agree, voting is the only way to change things. But before we vote, we have to investigate just who these bastards are in bed with. I'm going to stop now. Thank you Steve.

  3. So true man! Thanks for this post.

  4. Nice post, though it makes me nauseous that you're so dead on. Glad to see you tying birding (and environmentalism) to government policy, it's definitely not too early to start advocating for civil duties: vote early, vote often.

    Hope your pelagic was awesome and you scored a lifer.

  5. Glad you posted this. Didn't read it all, but a key skill for a conservation biologist is to, for a certain percent of the day, mentally plug one's ears and sing a happy song. So I don't get depressed and want to off myself/people.

    Learned YEARS ago a famous (in my circles) conservation biologist had the "mean people suck" sticker on his car, but had removed "mean." =) Read enough, & this is a reasonable conclusion.

    BUT, glad you posted it. And, incidentally, LOVE "meh." So much.

    I must say, if anyone is complaining to me about the government, specifically a particular politician, the first thing I ask is "Did you vote?" If they say "No" then I am done listening. If you don't vote, you don't get to complain. I never claimed to be reasonable. =)

    One better than the other, vs. one = fabulous in every way, is an important difference.

    Happy boating, hope you find amazing stuff. =) Loving your amazing yearly birdy total. Sweet!

  6. @Nate - Truth. Glad we are in agreement.

    @Anne - The wolf thing pisses me off to no end. Putting politics into science is disgusting.

    @Flicker Boi - You're welcome!

    @Mike - We need to elect more birders. Pelagic was lifers, but a lot of birds I hadnt seen in a few years.

    @BB - Finish it! It ends semi-positively. Its also pertinent to your biologist duties, I reckon.

  7. Beautifully said. I concur on all points. The ESA rider is particularly disturbing, given the potential ramifications. There are numerous pieces of legislation in committee now, in what appears to be a death-by-a-thousand-cuts methodology.

    On the topic of Red Knots, do you know if there's any research on the real impact of Caribbean shorebird hunts? The recent Whimbrel tragedy obviously brings that to mind.

  8. As a life-long Democrat (increasingly of late simply not to be a Republican) I have been profoundly disappointed with Obama. His environmental record, and not just on ESA, is dismal. It really is time for a new political party, one which is fiscally conservative and socially progressive - but we would have to keep it out of the hands of the politicos.