Has Babbitt’s Train wreck finally arrived at the station? Bruce Babbitt was the Secretary of the Interior during the Clinton Administration. Overall, he was supportive of wildlife conservation. However, he was also worried about moving too fast in protecting endangered species because he thought that enraged western interests such as ranchers and extractive industries and their political representatives in Congress would attack and repeal or pass changes that would emasculate the Endangered Species Act. Thus Babbitt took actions to slow or weaken enforcement of endangered species protections such as asking a Republican Senator to restrict funding for critical habitat and imposed a “moratorium” on listings because being too aggressive with the ESA “would rub important people the wrong way.” (Note: for a good account of this, read David Knibb’s excellent book, Grizzly Wars: The Public Fight Over the Great Bear, 2008, Eastern University Press). In one interview, Babbitt even said that being too aggressive with the ESA would lead to the “repeal of it” and this this repeal would be justified. Despite Babbitt’s warnings and many Republican attempts to modify these ESA (e.g., impose cost benefit economic considerations that would limit listings), many groups such as the Center for Biodiversity and others pushed the USFWS to act. The USFWS moved during the Clinton Administration and all Administrations since (including the Obama Administration) to emphasize compromises between “stakeholders” such as ranchers, extractive industries, developers, and environmentalists through habitat conservation and other compromise devices. This approach has achieved many successes most notably a major compromise over the sage-grouse during the final year of the Obama Administration in which several Federal and state agencies came to a compromise covering hundreds of thousands of acres to protect the bird with a compromise that most accepted.
One could argue that this compromise approach could answer Babbitt’s concern about protecting the ESA from opponents through being overly aggressive. However, there is strong evidence that with the advent of the Trump Administration and Republican dominance of both chambers that despite the emphasis on compromise such as habitat conservation plans, that Republicans are determined to emasculate the ESA and have already taken steps to do so as documented in my other posts below. They would undercut the sage-grouse compromise despite the huge multi-year effort to forge this compromise and are planning to prepare revisions to the law so that states will have the say and economic costs can be justified as reasons to not list species—even though the rejection of cost as a reason for not protecting wildlife was at the heart of the original Endangered Species Act. The question that I struggle with is: if environmental groups and USFWS had been significantly less aggressive in their actions over the past 44 years, would the impending “train wreck” not have occurred? I cannot, of course, say for certain but I tend to doubt it. It seems to me that those who oppose the Act cannot tolerate the idea of putting interests of any important group (from their perspective this means landowners, ranchers, developers, and extractive industries) second to that of wildlife. They are outraged that they have to even to through a process where wildlife interests impose delays much less stoppage of their interests. This is my view and I welcome comments on this issue.
During my research for the book, I noticed that there was no blog available for sharing informaton on wildlife conservation and thus I set up this blog to accomplish this purpose. Please share any informaticoncerning issues related to wildife policy and politics. I welcome feedback from users concerning this blog and website.