Environmental groups sue over Endangered Species Act

By: - August 23, 2019 8:31 am

Endangered species of the U.S. (by Alexander Vidal, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Seven environmental groups including the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians, and the Natural Resources Defense Council have united behind a lawsuit against the Trump Administration. Filed by Earth Justice on the collective’s behalf, the lawsuit accuses the president’s new regulations of weakening the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“In general, the endangered species act is very important and critical in protecting many of our species in Wisconsin,” explains Elizabeth Ward, conservation programs coordinator for the Sierra Club of Wisconsin, “and of course across the country.”

This lawsuit says the Trump Administration has changed federal rules which ensure anything the government authorizes or funds doesn’t jeopardize threatened species or their habitats. It comes in the wake of a separate lawsuit over President Donald Trump’s attempts to revitalize and deregulate the coal industry.

The Endangered Species Act was established in 1973. The bipartisan measure protects species against private development of  land, water, and other natural resources that could threaten their survival.

 “The Endangered Species Act was created to do exactly the opposite of what the Trump Administration is proposing,” Ward tells Wisconsin Examiner. “Which is to kind of allow other factors and other sorts of politics [to affect] whether we would need to protect certain species.” The public had not been notified of the changes to the Act made by President Donald Trump, nor was there an opportunity for the public to comment.

Ward says President Trump’s move comes at a particularly bad time. “All of this is happening when we’re seeing climate change alter habitats, we’re seeing deforestation and other kinds of human-caused impacts really hurting an unprecedented number of species.”

Over the last few decades, many species have been able to bounce back under the ESA’s protection. “We have close to a couple dozen endangered species [in Wisconsin] that are federally listed,” says Ward. “The gray wolf is sort of our biggest and gets the most attention. But there are also other things like the northern long-eared bat, and there’s a hand full of birds, including the whooping crane.”

She adds several butterfly species, as well as the rusty patched bumblebee, to the list. The scarcely encountered eastern massasauga rattlesnake also recently made news, as a small population may be modestly affected by a La Crosse County bridge project. “I think that’s the only reptile that is federally listed [in Wisconsin],” says Ward.

“In general,” she tells Wisconsin Examiner, “it [Trump’s rule changes] comes at a time when Wisconsin is seeing a handful of potentially devastating projects.” Things like the Back Forty in Michigan, a sulfide mine project at the heart of the Great Lakes Peninsula. Sulfide mine pollution is known to have devastating impacts on water habitats. In the Great Lakes’ case, many of these waterways flow back into the Badger State.

Further north, Native American groups are preparing to push back against a proposed pipeline project. Last year, Native elders joined an audience in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood to discuss to project. Many participants were also part of the resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Ward says maintaining the integrity of the Endangered Species Act is imperative. She hopes the lawsuit will uphold the Act’s intent,, to “make sure that we’re not putting the profits of companies ahead of keeping these species alive.”


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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets. He was also featured in the 2018 documentary The Chase Key, and was the recipient of the Sierra Club Great Waters Group 2021 Environmental Hero of the Year award. The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council also awarded Holmes its 2021-2022 Media Openness Award for using the open records laws for investigative journalism. Holmes was also a finalist in the 2021 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards alongside the rest of the Wisconsin Examiner's staff. The Silver, or second place, award for Best Online Coverage of News was awarded to Holmes and his colleague Henry Redman for an investigative series into how police responded to the civil unrest and protests in Kenosha during 2020. Holmes was also awarded the Press Club's Silver (second-place) award for Public Service Journalism for articles focusing on police surveillance in Wisconsin.