Making America Great Again?
The bald eagle is a symbol of America’s greatness. The second continental congress adopted the North American bird as the United States’ symbol in 1782 to represent strength, as the golden eagle did for the Roman empire. John F. Kennedy wrote, “The fierce beauty and proud independence of this great bird aptly symbolizes the strength and freedom of America.” America has slapped the bald eagle on everything, from the presidential seal to money.
However, not that long ago, the bald eagle fell victim to a lack of regulation and was on the brink of extinction. Habitat destruction, hunting, and the contamination of its food source from a now banned pesticide decimated the bald eagle population. At the lowest point, there were only 417 breeding pairs left in the country. To protect the country’s symbol, the bald eagle was listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the population has largely been restored.
As part of his “Make America Great Again” crusade, Donald Trump and his administration have seized every opportunity to roll back regulations, and environmental regulations, specifically, with aggression. The “Make America Great Again” slogan has come to represent a number of coded messages, one of which the country is rallying against right now with the Black Lives Matter movement. But a subtle message, which the Trump Administration repeatedly acts on, is the pursuit of profits, regardless of the incidental costs.
In 2019, the Trump Administration turned its sights on the ESA. As of October 2019, the Administration weakened the ESA for the first time in its 45 years of existence. The Administration made the following changes:
- Species classified as “threatened” (meaning “likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future”) no longer receive blanket protections;
- Climate change likely will no longer be considered in determining threats to species; and
- Prohibitions again considering the economic impacts of listing a species were removed, whereas before, only conservation impacts could be considered.
The changes make it harder for species to receive protections in the first place and lessens protections when the species do receive them. The changes also shed light on the intention behind them—allowing corporate profits to persevere over species facing extinction. These changes benefit corporate interests, including the oil and gas, logging, and animal agriculture industries, at the expense of animal and plant species that, once gone, will never come back.
Make no mistake, most Americans don’t think these changes are great. A 2018 study conducted by Ohio State University found that four out of five Americans support the ESA. The ESA was signed into law by a Republican president with strong bipartisan support. The House of Representatives voted 355-4 in favor of passing it. There is nothing controversial or partisan about the law.
And the need for the ESA is greater now more than ever. We are living in what scientists call “the sixth extinction” — the sixth time in our planet’s history that species have disappeared at such a rapid rate. Scientists estimate that the rate of extinction is at least 1,000 times greater than normal. Humans and climate change are continuing to increase threats to species already struggling to survive.
Still, the Administration has made its choice, and in doing so, has further endangered many animal and plant species. The law that saved the symbol of America’s greatness, or America’s strength, has been weakened. As a result, animals will pay the price so corporate interests will profit, and we could lose some of the great species that make nature enchanting.
To truly “Make America Great Again,” we must remind ourselves, and more importantly, our elected officials, of all that makes America a great land. America’s great biodiversity, varied ecosystems, and natural landscape are seen not only in the Bald Eagle, but also in the Florida Panther, the Red Wolf, the Wood Bison, and the Northwest’s local Orca whale pods. The PAW-FIN Conservation Act — “Protect America’s Wildlife and Fish in Need of Conservation Act of 2019” — would reverse these regulations and restores the ESA. But right now, legislators need to see how much their constituents support restoring the ESA to pass the PAW and FIN Act. You can help by urging your representatives to support the PAW and FIN Act by sending a message today. You can find your Congressional Representative here. Let them know what you think makes America truly great.