Viewpoint: Protect habitat to fight the climate crises
It’s puzzling why news about the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act has tended to quote those wanting to change or repeal this landmark environmental law or say species threatened by climate change are doomed to extinction.
A recent example would be the comments by Holly Doremus, a professor at University of California’s Berkeley School of Law, who argued that wolverines, which were recently added to the Endangered Species List, will go extinct due to the overheated climate and there’s nothing we can do about it.
This argument, were it to become national policy, would then say any species whose habitat is being impacted by our ever hotter and drier climate will necessarily take the one-way street to extinction.
Luckily, that is not the language of the Endangered Species Act, nor its intent. In fact, the Act is adamant that the best way to keep threatened and endangered species from extinction is to protect the ecosystems upon which they depend. That’s exactly why the Act requires the federal government to designate “Critical Habitat” -- not just to prevent extinction, but to actually recover threatened and endangered species.
Thanks to District Judge Kathy Seeley’s historic ruling in the Held v. Montana case, Montana is now under Court Order to consider the effects on climate change when issuing permits for proposed projects.
But we also need to do a better job of protecting wildlife habitat and in that regard, there remain problems with the government’s implementation of the legal mandate to protect critical habitat for listed species.
For example, the federally-designated Critical Habitat for lynx has already been weakened to allow bulldozing roads for clearcuts in National Forests, even though the best available science clearly finds lynx avoid clearcuts and roads.
Like lynx, science also finds that wolverines also do best in secure, undisturbed habitat. Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks uses cameras and bait stations to count and identify wolverines. Where do they find the most wolverines? In protected habitat, such as Wilderness Areas, Wilderness Study Areas, and roadless areas.
If we want to keep wolverines, lynx, and other threatened and endangered species from extinction we need to maintain their best habitat, not open it to development and extractive industries as Senator Daines (R-MT) is trying to do.
The good news is there is a bill in Congress right now that not only protects secure habitat, it also fights global warming, which is exactly what the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act is designed to accomplish.
The measure, which is before the Senate as S.1531, is a grassroots bill written by scientists and citizens from the Northern Rockies. It not only protects existing wildlands habitat by designating all of the 23 million acres of roadless areas in the Northern Rockies as wilderness, but also fights climate change by keeping our incredibly valuable carbon-storing forests intact.
National Forests absorb an astounding 12-15 percent of the carbon that America generates, and unlogged and old growth forests absorb the most. In fact, recent studies found that the logging industry in Oregon releases more carbon than all of the state’s cars and trucks combined.
Senator Daines and others in Congress are trying to gut the Endangered Species Act and release Wilderness Study Areas for development...the two worst things they could do for endangered species and the rest of us who rely on a livable climate.
Now’s the time to join us in rejecting the efforts to gut the Endangered Species Act, stand up for our National Forests, and take science-based, not politically-motivated, efforts to recover native species for future generations.
Mike Garrity is the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.