Watchdog Accuses Trump's NOAA of 'Choosing Extinction' for Right Whales by Hiding Scientific Evidence
By Julia Conley
As the North Atlantic right whale was placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's list of critically endangered species Thursday, environmental protection groups accusing the U.S. government of bowing to fishing and fossil fuel industry pressure to downplay the threat and failing to enact common-sense restrictions to protect the animals.
- Lemurs and Northern Right Whales Near Brink of Extinction ... ›
- Trump Administration Approves Harmful Seismic Blasting in Atlantic ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jennifer Weeks
The Trump administration has announced rule changes that alter how it will enforce the 1973 Endangered Species Act, which protects threatened and endangered species and their habitats. Among these changes, officials can now consider potential costs in deciding whether to list a species. The new policies will make it easier to delist species, and are likely to shrink areas set aside as critical habitat to help species recover.
1. Americans Support Protecting Endangered Species<p>Critics of the Endangered Species Act say the law is <a href="https://www.hcn.org/articles/endangered-species-weakened-species-protections-would-be-vulnerable-to-political-influence" target="_blank">too bureaucratic and costly</a> to private interests, and that states should have a bigger role. But when Ohio State University's Jeremy Bruskotter and Ramiro Berardo and Michigan Technological University's John Vucetich reviewed 20 years of data on public views of the law, they found that over that time, <a href="https://theconversation.com/support-for-the-endangered-species-act-remains-high-as-trump-administration-and-congress-try-to-gut-it-95279" target="_blank">roughly 80 percent of Americans</a> consistently supported it.<br></p><p>Notably, while liberals strongly favored protecting <a href="http://www.ecowatch.com/tag/endangered-species" rel="noopener noreferrer">endangered species</a>, nearly 75 percent of conservatives did so as well. In a 2015 survey, more than 70 percent of hunters, farmers and ranchers supported the Endangered Species Act.</p><p>Why, then, are critics of the law so determined to weaken it? The authors point to research showing that "policy outcomes in America are heavily influenced by 'economic elites' and business interests who … have greater clout with, and access to, policymakers" than average voters.</p><span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0b6f28914ba857474e3d7f17f3910bea"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/DojGPBV4U0w?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
2. States Aren’t Equipped to Take Over<p>Some regulators and members of Congress have pushed to delegate responsibility for listing and protecting endangered species to states. But University of California, Irvine legal scholars Alejandro Camacho and Michael Robinson-Dorn found that state statutes <a href="https://theconversation.com/turning-power-over-to-states-wont-improve-protection-for-endangered-species-87495" target="_blank">were much weaker</a> than the Endangered Species Act. And states would have to massively increase spending to maintain the levels of protection that exist now.</p><p>"States have substantial authority to manage flora and fauna in their boundaries," the authors wrote. "But species often cross state borders, or exist on federal lands. And many states either are uninterested in species protection or prefer to rely on the federal government to serve that role."</p><p>The authors found room for better consultation between federal agencies and states, but argue that rather than dismantling the Endangered Species Act, Congress should provide enough funding to achieve the law's goals.</p><img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMDU2MjEzMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0ODQ2NTE3NH0.YmVLje6DJu0Ar66GPuZpbPnIOPOf0E_a-8dCtcZ8vBU/img.jpg?width=980" id="c0fcf" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="eac8c99f71be1898e5d307b1b118645d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The Trump administration is proposing to downlist the American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) from endangered to threatened. Once abundant throughout the Northeast, the beetle is now found in just five states.
3. Regulators Need to Set Priorities<p>As it stands, conservation agencies don't have enough funding or time to write recovery plans for more than <a href="https://theconversation.com/new-data-tool-can-help-scientists-use-limited-funds-to-protect-the-greatest-number-of-endangered-species-105255" target="_blank">1,600 listed species listed</a>. Choosing which ones to protect raises complicated tradeoffs between science and values. And without recovery plans, species are unlikely to rebound.</p><p>Arizona State University biodiversity scholars Leah Gerber and Timothy Male sought to develop an effective system for guiding these choices. They designed a decision tool called Recovery Explorer that uses an algorithm to identify the <a href="https://theconversation.com/new-data-tool-can-help-scientists-use-limited-funds-to-protect-the-greatest-number-of-endangered-species-105255" target="_blank">most cost-effective choices for recovery</a>, based on factors such as geography, biology and the likelihood that funding will actually lead to recovery.</p><p>"Scientists and policymakers now have an opportunity to develop a more workable strategy to improve the Endangered Species Act," they write. "And for those species that are deemed worthy of protection, the next steps will be to promote their recovery and be willing to pay for it."</p><img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMDU2MjE0MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNzI1ODE5M30.-85lxPePdzpE3qEAc_HTG7PImvoG9G7qXc7kaXYiHps/img.jpg?width=980" id="e81e0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="adb9b6b00be9779c922f0e524d93a4f4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Camera trap footage of a female gray wolf and pups in Lassen National Forest in Northern California. The state listed the wolves as endangered in 2014, but farmers and ranchers have challenged this policy.
4. Species Can Rebound with Help<p>The American bald eagle is often cited as an example of an endangered species that has made a successful comeback. But its cousin, the osprey (<em>Pandion haliaetus</em>) is an <a href="https://theconversation.com/ospreys-recovery-from-pollution-and-shooting-is-a-global-conservation-success-story-111907" target="_blank">even more spectacular case</a>.</p><p>Ospreys were abundant across North America up through World War II, catching fish in rivers, lakes and harbors. But like bald eagles, they were devastated starting in the 1950s by DDT and other insecticides, which poisoned the birds and prevented them from successfully hatching eggs. By the mid-1960s populations had plummeted.</p><p>Ornithologist Alan Poole believes that Ospreys' disastrous decline helped make the case for banning DDT and other insecticides that were lethal to wildlife. The other key, he writes, was widespread construction of poles to support osprey nests:</p><blockquote>"Within just a few miles of where I live along the Massachusetts coast, over 200 Ospreys now nest each year, lured in by abundant nest poles we've built on wide-open marshes. Fewer than 20 Ospreys were found here in the 1960s."</blockquote><p>While ospreys were never formally listed under the Endangered Species Act, Poole believes they were near the brink of extinction 50 years ago. He calls their recovery "a reward for all who value wild animals, and a reminder of how nature can rebound if we address the key threats."</p><img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMDU2MjE2Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzgwNTg0NX0.EA-X6tRUjexCQs-r7neYAdN5jKcea8xLUXcSU87xMhY/img.jpg?width=980" id="f7b63" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8cf26b9794b1d6bc09acc7cd8a029f6e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Ospreys on a nesting platform at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland.
5. Some Species Are Running out of Time<p>Thousands of right whales once swam in the North Atlantic, but today there are <a href="https://theconversation.com/high-tech-fishing-gear-could-help-save-critically-endangered-right-whales-115974" target="_blank">only about 411 left</a>. This critically endangered species is threatened by collisions with ships and entanglement in fishing gear, which can cause traumatic injuries that slowly kill or cripple the animals.</p><p>Michael Moore and Hannah Myers of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution say it's critical to develop alternative gear for lobster and crab fishermen that will eliminate ropes from the water column, where whales are likely to swim into them. Options in development include pop-up buoys that fishermen summon with an acoustic signal and sensors that acoustically identify traps on the ocean floor.</p><p>While some fishermen call these technologies unaffordable, others are helping to test them. "Just as no fisherman wants to catch a whale, researchers and conservationists don't want to put fishermen out of business," Moore and Myers assert. "In our view, ropeless technologies offer a genuine opportunity for whales and the fishing industry to co-exist if they can be made functional, affordable and safe to use."</p>
- Trump Admin Guts Endangered Species Act in the Midst of Climate ... ›
- To Save Slow-Breeding Giants, Biologists Recommend New Method ... ›
Researchers are calling for urgent action following the death of a sixth North Atlantic right whale in Canada's Gulf of St. Lawrence this year.
Whale watchers and researchers are rejoicing after a third North Atlantic right whale calf was documented this winter, especially after the previous calving season resulted in no confirmed births.
A whale mother known as 1204 and the newborn were seen off Florida's northeast coast last week.
By Sam Schipani
Last year was not a good one for the North Atlantic right whale. Seventeen of them were discovered to have died, about 4 percent of a total population of 455. Numbers have been low for decades—the species was declared endangered in 1973—but if the current trend continues, the North Atlantic right whale, one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world, could go extinct by 2040.
- Rescuers Race to Save Stranded Whales in Indonesia ›
- 90% of Minke Whales Killed in Norway Are Female and 'Almost All ... ›
By Allison Guy
Centuries ago, naturalists believed that the animals of the sea mirrored the animals of the land. Elephants were matched by sea-elephants, chickens by sea-chickens. The clergy even got paired with sea-bishops and sea-monks. In 2017, land and sea mirrored each other in a less literal way. As humanity reeled from hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes and shootings, a rare whale endured its own year of horrors.
"This makes it pretty much the deadliest year we've seen for North Atlantic right whales since the days of whaling," Tonya Wimmer, director of Canada's Marine Animal Response Society, told the Toronto Star.
The population of endangered North Atlantic right whales is under threat due to entanglement in fishing gear and a resulting drop in birth rates, according to a study published by the journal Frontiers in Marine Science.
Even though North Atlantic rightwhales numbers have modestly increased from 295 individuals in 1992 to 500 individuals in 2015, the rate of baby right whales born annually have dropped by nearly 40 percent since 2010, the study states.
Due to these low calving rates, the study implies that the whale's already-precarious population faces a grim future.
This morning, together with our colleagues at National Wildlife Federation and Conservation Law Foundation, Natural Resources Defense Council announced an agreement with Deepwater Wind, a major offshore wind developer, to safeguard North Atlantic right whales during the initial phases of development off southern New England. The agreement provides more protection than the administration has required thus far, and right whales are very much in need of protection.
Right whales got their name because they were deemed the “right whale” to hunt, and they were driven to near-extinction by whaling. It’s been almost eighty years since they were legally killed, but they remain critically endangered in the Atlantic. They haven’t recovered because of a number of other threats they face.
For one, right whales whales are highly vulnerable to collision with ships, as they often feed on copepods just below the water’s surface, where they can be struck but not seen. They also have a terrible history of entanglement in fishing gear. Underwater noise from shipping and industrial activity is a serious threat: it disrupts their behavior and is destroying their ability to communicate. And pollution is degrading their habitat.
So it’s clear that we have to do more to protect right whales—to preserve them from extinction and give them a chance to recover.
The wind development areas off Rhode Island and Massachusetts are right whale habitat. Some whales migrate through these waters en route to their winter calving grounds off Florida, Georgia and South Carolina; and, while they primarily forage further north in the Gulf of Maine, they’re known to feed down below Cape Cod as well, particularly in late winter and early spring. Indeed, the largest right whale feeding aggregations ever seen have occurred in Rhode Island Sound—more than 100 animals, which is remarkable for this species.
In entering today’s agreement, we intend to protect right whales during the initial phases of wind farm development: during pile driving, which may be needed to install meteorological towers, and during sub-bottom profiling, a process that uses loud sound to survey areas just below the seafloor. Without effective mitigation, these activities could injure the whales through vessel collisions or noise exposure, or disrupt their migration or feeding.
At the heart of the agreement is a traffic-light system of red, yellow and green periods. Pile-driving and sub-bottom profiling are prohibited during the red period, when right whales are most likely to be in the area; and additional mitigation applies during the yellow months, when right whales are less likely to occur. Additionally, some measures would run throughout the year, when the light is green but right whale occurrence remains a possibility. The agreement includes:
- Restrictions on pile-driving and sub-bottom profiling during the winter and early spring months. We believe that separating these activities from the whales is the most effective way of reducing risk.
- A 10-knot speed limit for all project vessels from Nov. 1 through May 15, to reduce risk of ship-strikes. The measure in our agreement goes beyond the government’s speed regulation, extending the speed limit across the entire development area and the transits ships make to get there, and applying it to all project vessels regardless of length.
- Use of the best commercially available technologies to reduce pile-driving noise during the yellow period. Noise-reduction and attenuation technologies have been developed in Europe, which is several years ahead of us in offshore wind production, and this measure begins to put them in use here.
- Better surveillance to spot right whales, to reduce risk of injury and disruption of foraging from noise exposure. These monitoring measures include requirements for expert ship-based observers; restrictions on operations at night and in low-visibility conditions; and use of aerial surveillance and/or passive listening devices to detect whales during the yellow period. The government requires operators to temporarily halt operations when whales are discovered within a small safety radius; our agreement enlarges the size of this safety margin for some activities.
Today’s agreement will help conserve one of the most endangered marine mammal species off our shores.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE