By FRANCES LAMBERTS
Perhaps it was with maintaining the precious heritage of wild nature and its creatures in mind that E.B. White located his children’s classic, The Trumpet of the Swan, in Montana. There, in 1935, the Congress had set aside the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge to preserve the last trumpeter swans, their numbers down to 73.
The story is about serious matters – a swan (Louis) overcoming a major handicap, people (the boy Sam) helping a non-human species to survive, and the need for creatures to mate if their life-form is to continue.
It doesn’t seem pure coincidence, either, that our state now has two official wildflowers. Under Governor Haslam in 2012, it adopted the Tennessee Coneflower as second wildflower, Passionflower being the first. Echinacea tennesseensis, uniquely our state’s heritage because it is found nowhere else, had just been de-listed from the Endangered Species Act protection the year before.
The plant delights with rose-purple petals turned upward, tracking the sun, and gives sustenance to butterflies and myriad other pollinating insects, songbirds dining on its seeds. Thought to be extinct, the state’s Heritage office and federal Fish and Wildlife Service had worked 32 years to bring it back to secure status, through listing under the ESA.
When Congress passed the ESA, unanimously in 1973, it noted that many species of fish, wildlife and plants had already been rendered extinct – some 500 since the 1500s – “through economic growth and development untempered by concern and conservation.” It found many more species to be threatened with disappearance, even though of great aesthetic, recreational, scientific and other values to the nation and its people.
The law pledged to conserve species, whether endangered and imminently at risk of vanishing or if threatened to become endangered in the foreseeable future.
The Congress stipulated that the listing of a species, in either category, be based on the best scientific data, independent of economic considerations and associated political influence. The need-for-listing decision would depend solely on a species’ remaining numbers and the threats to its survival.
The Trump administration is now proposing a rule to which it seeks public input. The proposal would strip key provisions of the current ESA law. It would abolish protection of threatened species, except under special, additional review by the agency, for all future listings. It would end the fundamental principle that basic science only – not alleged cost – determine ESA protection. It would no longer require federal agencies to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service on at-risk species’ presence, and incorporate some ameliorative measures if needed, before issuing permits for various projects.
In 2012, Americans paid just $5.40 per person for implementation of the ESA as designed by the Congress. Through this law, we can still appreciate Noshi and Shima and other bald eagles, the trumpeter swan and the Tennessee Coneflower. It has saved from extinction 99 percent of the wildlife and plant species under its care.
Input to the rule-making must be received by September 24. Electronically go to http://www.regulations.gov, entering docket number FWS-HQ-ES-2018-0007 in the search box. Comments may also be submitted via hard copy.