Flex your environmental muscle, Gov. DeSantis, and tell Trump to protect Florida’s wildlife | Editorial

The Endangered Species Act helped boost the population for the Florida Keys osprey.
The Endangered Species Act helped boost the population for the Florida Keys osprey. Miami Herald file

Months after a warning by scientists that the globe is in the midst of an extinction crisis that threatens 1 million species, the Trump administration all but announced it doesn’t care. It revealed regulatory changes that would dramatically weaken enforcement of the federal Endangered Species Act.

The sweeping rollbacks, jointly announced by the Interior and Commerce departments, would scale back protections for species listed as threatened as opposed to endangered. The protections accorded such species will be decided on a case-by-case basis. That alone wouldn’t be so bad. Considering each case individually is fine.

Things go wrong in the details. The new regulations would remove language prohibiting consideration of economic impact when determining what measures would best protect endangered species. They also would strip requirements for federal agencies to consult with scientists and wildlife agencies before approving permits for activities such as oil and gas drilling that could damage critical habitat.

In the face of an extinction crisis driven in part by climate change, these are the last actions any U.S. administration should be taking. Enforcement of the Endangered Species Act should be strengthened, not gutted.

Clearly the Trump administration cares more about increasing industry profits than protecting the environment. As Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and chief executive of Defenders of Wildlife, said, “The signal being sent by the Trump administration is clear: Protecting America’s wildlife and wild lands is simply not on their agenda.”

For more than 40 years, the Endangered Species Act has earned broad, bipartisan support. And it has proven extraordinarily effective, protecting 99 percent of listed species from extinction — including the manatee, the American crocodile, the Florida Keys’ osprey and the bald eagle.

But the threats faced by endangered species are changing, and past successes are no guarantee that once-endangered species will continue to recover. The federal government, for instance, wants to take Florida’s Key deer off the endangered species list, even though it faces ongoing threats from increasing traffic in the Lower Keys, more frequent and severe hurricanes and an infestation of killer screwworms.

The delisting decision comes even though fewer than 1,000 of the tiny, dog-sized deer live on the Keys — the only place in the entire world where they can be found.

These regulatory changes seem aimed at one thing: Opening up critical habitat for endangered species to development, drilling and exploitation.

Though Gov. Ron DeSantis has made his admiration for President Trump clear many times, he has also shown he is willing to stand up to the president on environmental matters. In Congress, DeSantis came out against Trump’s proposal to open up Florida’s coasts to offshore drilling and helped Florida win an exemption.

Florida needs DeSantis to show that independent streak once more. He should talk to the president and explain that Floridians understand the importance of saving endangered species. He should explain how unwise these changes are, not just for Florida but for the entire nation.

Protecting the environment wasn’t always a partisan issue. The Endangered Species Act was signed into law by President Richard Nixon. Conservatism and conservationism are complementary, not competing, philosophies. It’s a pity Trump doesn’t understand that.