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17 States Sue to Stop Trump Admin Attack on Endangered Species Act

Politics
17 States Sue to Stop Trump Admin Attack on Endangered Species Act
The endangered Gray Wolf, being a keystone predator, is an integral component of the ecosystems to which it typically belongs. USFWS Endangered Species

A little more than a month after the Trump administration announced a major rollback of the Endangered Species Act, 17 states are suing to stop it.


The administration's changes would remove the blanket rule giving threatened species the same protections as endangered species, allow regulators to calculate the economic cost of protecting any given species and make it harder to protect species from the impacts of the climate crisis. They were announced months after a major UN biodiversity report warned that one million species could go extinct because of human activity.

"As we face a climate emergency and global extinction crisis threatening more than a million species, the Trump Administration is gutting Endangered Species Act protections to pave the way for oil and gas developments," Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement reported by The Washington Post. "We are suing to defend federal law and protect our imperiled wildlife and environment."

Massachusetts was one of the states that led the suit filed Wednesday, along with Maryland and California. They were joined by Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington state, along with Washington, DC and New York City.

"We don't challenge these actions because we want to pick a fight," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a press conference announcing the suit. "We challenge these actions because it is necessary. We're coming out swinging to defend this consequential law. Humankind, and the species with whom we share this planet, depend on it."

In suing, the states are fulfilling a promise made in August, when the changes were first announced, according to The Washington Post. Their action follows on a similar lawsuit brought by environmental groups last month.

The Department of the Interior (DOI), for its part, defended the changes.

"These are long overdue and necessary regulatory changes that will recover more imperiled species facing extinction than previously accomplished over the span of this law," DOI spokesman Nick Goodwin said in a statement reported by HuffPost. "We will see them in court, and we will be steadfast in our implementation of this important act to improve conservation efforts across the country."

Privately, however, senior DOI officials have spoken distastefully of the entire 1973 law, calling it a "sword to tear down the American economy," HuffPost reported.

The states' suit came a day before the changes are scheduled to start taking effect, USA Today reported.

Since it was passed, the Endangered Species Act has saved 99 percent of the plants and animals under its protection from extinction. It has been linked to the recovery of iconic species like the bald eagle and gray wolf, and currently protects more than 1,600 species.

"As we face the unprecedented threat of a climate emergency, now is the time to strengthen our planet's biodiversity, not to destroy it," Becerra said in a statement reported by USA Today. "The only thing we want to see extinct are the beastly policies of the Trump administration putting our ecosystems in critical danger."

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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