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Healing Nature’s Wounds

Reversing Assaults On Wild Nature

Executive Director’s Note: Guided by our Carnivore Conservation Biologist Dave Parsons, The Rewilding Institute hereby launches a campaign to Heal Nature’s Wounds as inflicted in the last four years of hostile management of land and wildlife across the country. We invite other conservation groups to join this Healing Nature’s Wounds campaign and submit their specific steps that the next administration can take in its first hundred days to help restore our natural heritage. Once we have a substantial list of suggested actions, we will seek the endorsements of conservation organizations. The completed campaign document will be submitted to the likely next presidential administration, with an offer of our services in reversing the damage. At this stage of the campaign we invite your group to nominate additional rules and policies that need reversal and additional healing steps to take. Nominated actions should address wounds to wildlife, biodiversity, wildlands, rewilding, and wild Nature in general. Please follow the format established in the initial list, of “planks” below, limit descriptions to approximately 200 words or fewer, and ensure that your descriptions are fact-based, nonpartisan, and polite. The Rewilding Institute may edit submitted actions for clarity and formatting consistency, but we will strive to not change the submitter’s intent. We may also screen suggested actions for relevance to the expressed purpose of this campaign and for consistency with non-profit guidelines, and we may contact you if we have questions about your entry.

There is no limit to additional planks — we are hoping to substantially grow the list of actions. Please send your proposed planks by October 9 to Kim Crumbo, TRI’s Wildlands Coordinator, at kcrumbo43@icloud.com.

—John Davis

THE CAMPAIGN

The Rewilding Institute and partner conservation organizations propose a “first 100 days” challenge to the incoming administration to reverse egregious assaults on Nature. These reversals can all be accomplished by administrative actions similar to the authorities used to implement them, such as presidential executive orders or proclamations, administrative policy changes, and regulatory changes. No legislation or judicial review will be required.

History will certainly show that those currently in power have inflicted more wounds on wildlife, biological diversity, ecosystems, and wild landscapes in the United States than any prior federal administration. These assaults on Nature must be quickly reversed by the new administration.

Two concepts have recently been presented by wise and visionary thinkers to save Nature: Half-Earth and Rewilding.

To combat the risk of extinction resulting from habitat destruction and climate change in this country, U.S. conservationists support the global initiative to set a conservation goal of conserving 30 percent of natural lands and oceans by 2030. This plan includes governmental, non-governmental, and private initiatives for protecting and restoring animal and plant species, rewilding degraded ecosystems, and more. But 30 percent is only the beginning of necessary conservation actions. The E.O. Wilson Foundation is guided by a global principle that “[w]ith science at its core and our transcendent moral obligation to the rest of life at its heart, the Half-Earth Project is working to conserve half the land and the sea to safeguard the bulk of biodiversity, including ourselves.” They write that the “ongoing mass extinction of the natural world ranks with pandemics, world war, and climate change as among the greatest threats that humanity has imposed on itself.” We urge the incoming administration to fully embrace these necessary Nature-healing proposals articulated in https://natureneedshalf.org and https://www.half-earthproject.org, as well as here in Rewilding Earth (https://rewilding.org).

In his landmark book Rewilding North America (2004 – in revision) influential conservationist Dave Foreman, founder of The Rewilding Institute, identified seven ecological “wounds” that must be reversed to heal and restore wild Nature to a sustainable vibrant state. The seven wounds are:

  1. Direct killing of species
  2. Loss and degradation of ecosystems
  3. Fragmentation of habitats
  4. Loss and disruption of natural processes
  5. Invasion by exotic species and diseases
  6. Poisoning of land, air, water, and wildlife
  7. Global climate change

Healing such wounds is the goal of the following actions that we are recommending to reverse recent attacks as expeditiously as possible.

1. Immediately dismiss department secretaries and agency directors of all federal agencies and departments that oversee or regulate natural resources. Most current agency heads and cabinet secretaries are unqualified for their positions, politically motivated, and/or have allegiances to industries that destroy or degrade the natural environment. They are figuratively foxes guarding their hen houses. Interim or acting agency head positions should be filled with qualified, ecologically-minded professionals who support science-based policy and decision-making.

2. Withdraw the proposed rule to delist gray wolves from protection under the Endangered Species Act, and convene a Gray Wolf Recovery Team comprised of independent scientists to develop a science-based national gray wolf recovery plan. On March 6, 2019, the Department of the Interior announced a proposed rule to remove federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for all gray wolves in the lower-48 states except for a small population of Mexican gray wolves in Arizona and New Mexico. This recommendation was made despite the fact that wolves are still functionally extinct throughout a vast majority of their former range within the continental United States. In addition to the 1.8 million comments submitted by the public, 86 members of Congress, 100 scientists, 230 businesses, and 367 veterinary professionals all submitted letters to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opposing the wolf delisting plan. Independent scientists selected to conduct the official peer review of the proposed delisting found significant scientific flaws in the proposal, rendering the proposal unsupported by the best available science, as required by the ESA. One of those flaws is the complete lack of a national recovery plan for gray wolves. A final delisting rule has not been issued, but could be any day. The incoming administration should rescind the rule, if issued, and convene a national gray wolf recovery team comprised of independent/academic scientists having no affiliation with state or federal wildlife agencies and charge the team with crafting a science-based and legally sufficient (per the ESA) plan to achieve gray wolf recovery in all significant portions of their historic range in the United States.

3. Rescind the proposed rule to define “habitat” under the Endangered Species Act. On 5 August 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) published a proposed rule to define “habitat” for purposes of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA prohibits federally authorized or funded activities from destroying or harming the critical habitat of endangered or threatened species. The term “habitat” as used in the ESA has not been legally defined. The proposed rule would define “habitat” as: The physical places that individuals of a species depend upon to carry out one or more life processes. Habitat includes areas with existing attributes that have the capacity to support individuals of the species. This definition would preclude efforts to restore areas of former or potential habitat that currently lack necessary attributes to support the recovery of endangered species. Habitat loss is a primary cause of biodiversity loss and species endangerment. And climate change is shifting the geography of species ranges.  Precluding even the possibility of restoring the habitability of critical suitable habitats is antithetical to the primary purpose of the ESA. The incoming administration should toss this industry-inspired proposal in the dust bin with other anti-nature proposals by the current administration.

4. Rescind the Justice Department’s “McKittrick Policy,” which directs Department of Justice attorneys who prosecute Endangered Species Act cases to request jury instructions that prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant knew the biological identity of the animal taken. This policy is antithetical to traditional wildlife law, which requires shooters to know their targets before pulling the trigger. The McKittrick Policy makes it nearly impossible to achieve a conviction of someone who kills an endangered species. For example, wolf killers have learned to claim they thought they were shooting at a coyote to avoid prosecution. The McKittrick Policy, which predates the current administration, was vacated by a U.S. District Court ruling, but an appeal by the current Department of Justice overruled the district court finding and order, leaving the policy in place. This policy needs to be rescinded immediately by the incoming administration.

5. Prohibit hunting and trapping of wildlife on national parks and wildlife refuges, in Alaska and throughout the United States. In 2015, based on input from public hearings and over 70,000 public comments, the National Park Service issued a final rule which codified prohibitions on certain types of harvest practices in national parks that are otherwise permitted by the State of Alaska’s hunting regulations, including killing brown bears and black bears over bait; killing wolves and coyotes (including pups) during the denning season; killing swimming caribou; and other unethical hunting activities. The current administration rescinded this rule allowing these unethical practices to continue. Another regulatory rollback by the Department of the Interior opened Kenai National Wildlife Refuge to previously banned hunting practices. And on August 18, 2020, the current administration announced 850 more hunting and fishing opportunities across 2.3 million acres of federal land at 147 national wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries. National parks and wildlife refuges should be sanctuaries where native wildlife are not hunted or trapped. The incoming administration should issue an executive order establishing such a policy, and immediately reverse existing policies allowing hunting, trapping, and fishing on national parks and wildlife refuges.

6.  Place a moratorium on the use of pesticides on National Wildlife Refuges. According to a recent analysis conducted by the Center for Biological Diversity, more than 350,000 pounds of dangerous agricultural pesticides were sprayed on more than 363,000 acres of crops on America’s national wildlife refuges in 2018. These include pesticides known to harm wildlife such as dicamba; 2,4-D, and paraquat (banned in many countries).  The report found that the use of these most dangerous pesticides increased nearly doubled between 2016 and 2018. This is a dangerous trend that must be reversed. National wildlife refuges should be what the name implies, “refuges” where wildlife are safe from human-caused harms. We urge the incoming administration to place a moratorium on the use of pesticides on national wildlife refuges until a science-based study on impacts to wildlife and effective non-toxic alternatives is completed and used to guide nature-friendly policy changes.

7. Reverse changes to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), passed in 1918, outlawed “taking, possessing, importing, exporting, transporting, selling, purchasing or bartering” any migratory bird, as well as “parts, eggs and nests of such protected birds” unless granted by a federal permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  The MBTA also mandated oversight and accountability for companies whose operations may harm or endanger protected bird species.  For example, many migratory birds died in open oilfield wastewater pits, forcing a requirement that the pits be covered. Under a current proposed rule, the rules protecting migratory birds would “only extend to conduct intentionally injuring birds.”  It is the McKittrick Policy principle applied to the MBTA. If the wastewater pit is constructed solely for the purpose of storing toxic water but not for the intentional purpose of killing birds, it would be legal. This is absurd and substantially reduces protections for migratory birds. A 2017 Interior Solicitor’s Opinion containing the language that would become codified by the proposed rule was overturned in a recent federal court decision. The public comment period on this proposed rule change has closed, and it is unclear if the current administration plans to issue the final rule to replace the overturned solicitor’s opinion. The incoming administration must immediately abandon this egregious proposed rule change or rescind the final rule if issued.

8. Restore Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments to their original geographic boundaries and environmental protection provisions. President Barack Obama designated the Bears Ears National Monument (1,351,849 acres) in 2016, and President Bill Clinton designated Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (1,880,461 acres) in 1996, under the authority of the Antiquities Act. The current administration reduced the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument by 47% and the Bear’s Ears Monument by 85%! Justifications for the original designations already exist, and the incoming administration will have the authority on day one to restore these monuments to their original geographic boundaries and protected natural and cultural amenities. This action should be implemented in collaboration with Native American tribes that have long advocated for these monument designations.

9. Reverse management decisions for Point Reyes National Seashore that favor continuation and expansion of agricultural uses over protecting the park’s natural resources. Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS) was established by legislation in 1962 for the purpose of providing maximum protection, restoration, and preservation of the natural environment within the area. Existing agricultural operations were purchased and former owners were offered right of use and occupancy for twenty-five years or the life of the owner or spouse. Those uses continue today over 30 years beyond the “sunset” date for their termination. Today ranchers graze 6,000 cattle on 28,000 acres inside PRNS, causing ecological damage and water pollution. Incredibly, the National Park Service is proposing a continuation and expansion of agricultural uses for another 25 years including allowing row cropping (e.g., artichokes), the raising of chickens, pigs, goats, and sheep, and the establishment of B&Bs and retail farm stands! PRNS supports a diverse assemblage of native wildlife and stunning scenic values. It is the only national park with a population of the rare Tule Elk, which have been reduced to just 1% of their historic population. To appease agricultural interests in the park, the PRNS population of Tule elk is kept artificially low through fencing and culling. Over 90% of public comments on proposed future management alternatives support the elimination of agricultural operations. We urge the new administration to adopt management plan Alternative F, which would eliminate agricultural uses and restore and preserve the rich natural amenities of PRNS.

10. Permanently ban oil and gas drilling and any other ecologically disturbing activities in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Alaska is one of the “crown jewels” of the national wildlife refuge system. It possesses outstanding biological, ecological, scenic, and cultural values. The region is home to over 200 bird species, including the American Golden Plover and Spectacled Eider, and 45 mammal species, such as muskox, walrus, polar bears, grizzly bears, wolves, and 120,000 caribou that migrate across the landscape each year. Natural ecological processes play out at grand scales where the density and distribution of native species are natural and undisturbed by human interference. This refuge deserves absolute protection. Wilderness designation should be extended to the refuge’s coastal plain and other ecologically important areas that may be threatened by resource extraction interests. This action is an immediate priority because on August 17, 2020, the current administration officially approved a plan to open 1.5 million acres of the refuge for drilling. The Secretary of the Interior has alluded to the possibility of lease sales by the end of the year.

11. Withdraw the current administration’s support of a proposal to build a 12- mile long road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. A federal judge halted a proposed land exchange in Alaska that would allow for the construction of a 12-mile gravel road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. The proposed agreement would trade land owned by Alaska Native King Cove Corporation with land on Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, and would allow a road through the refuge to connect the remote town of King Cove to an all-weather airport in Cold Bay. This unique complex of coastal wetlands attracts hundreds of thousands of migrating waterfowl and shorebirds annually.  Nearly the entire world’s populations of Pacific Black Brant and Emperor Geese stop here to feast on the world’s largest eelgrass beds during their spring and fall migrations. Most of the refuge, including the area the road would cut through, is designated as wilderness where road building is currently prohibited. The judge questioned the administration’s decision to allow the land exchange after the previous administration found in 2013 that the road would cause significant degradation of irreplaceable ecological resources on the refuge and was therefore not in the public interest. Hopefully, this issue is settled. The incoming administration should emphatically support the 2013 decision to oppose the construction of this road and put an end to attempts to authorize and build this road.

12. Permanently protect all US Forest System roadless wildlands. The administration should permanently protect all wildlands with roadless characteristics with regulatory change. This includes abandoning the proposal to repeal the Roadless Rule on the Tongass National Forest, but it also includes updating the Roadless Area Conservation Rule (RACR) to close the logging loopholes that have gradually eroded inventoried roadless areas. Since 2010, the Forest Service has authorized logging in over 33,000 acres of inventoried roadless areas in Montana using RACR’s exceptions, including one exception created for logging to improve habitat and ecosystems, i.e., stewardship logging (36 CFR § 294.13(b)(1)), which has no scientific basis. The 2008 Idaho Roadless Rule created a hierarchy of roadless categories and further lessened roadless protection of approximately 84 percent of roadless areas in Idaho. Since 2010, the Forest Service has authorized logging in approximately 18,000 acres of inventoried roadless using the Idaho Roadless Rule. Additionally, many unroaded wildlands with roadless characteristics in the national forest system were excluded from RACR’s inventory; if they have not already been developed, they remain unprotected. The administration must bring the public’s roadless rules under one, strong rule that eliminates the logging loopholes and includes unprotected areas with roadless characteristics.

13. Resist and reverse assaults on established marine sanctuaries. On January 3, 2020, the current President signed a proclamation rolling back an Obama-era order and opening nearly 5,000 square miles of a marine sanctuary off the coast of New England to commercial fishing. The purpose for establishing the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in 2016 was to shield endangered species and their ecosystems from harmful intrusion and permanent damage by commercial interests, such as fishing and seabed mining. This marine protected area provides sanctuary and protects critical habitats for deep-sea corals, endangered whales and sea turtles, and a diverse assemblage of fish, seabirds, sharks, dolphins, and other wildlife. Nature needs more, not fewer, marine sanctuaries. The opening of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument to ecologically damaging commercial activities should be immediately reversed.

14. Restore provisions of the 2015 Clean Water Rule. The Clean Water Rule of 2015 broadly defined what qualifies as “waters of the United States” to be protected under the Clean Water Act. The 2015 rule’s definition included many wetlands and smaller waterways that are hydrologically and ecologically important. The Act’s requirement for permits to alter waterways or discharge pollutants provides important protections for maintaining downstream water quality and providing viable aquatic habitats and ecosystems for endangered species and native aquatic wildlife, including endangered species, and clean water for human uses. On April 21, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Army published the Navigable Waters Protection Rule (aka Dirty Water Rule) to finalize a much-restricted definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. The new definition substantially excludes many previously protected wetlands and watercourses, especially ephemeral streams and isolated wetlands. This rule will harm water resources, and have far-reaching adverse hydrological impacts. These important water bodies and waterways are no longer protected from pollution or destruction under the Clean Water Act. This could have devastating effects on the quality and quantity our nation’s waters, aquatic species and ecosystems, and on people that rely on clean and sustainable water supplies. The incoming administration should immediately rescind the Dirty Water Rule.

15. Cease construction of the wall along the U.S. Mexican border and reinstate the now exempted environmental analysis requirements. More than 650 miles of barriers exist along the border impacting rugged and spectacular landscapes. More importantly, these walls, fences, and barriers cut through sensitive ecosystems, disrupt animal migration patterns, cause catastrophic flooding, and divide communities and tribal nations. The next stage should be to create plans and allot funds to dismantle the wall and begin restoration of the native ecosystem of the Borderlands.

16. Issue an immediate moratorium on oil and gas and other mineral leases on all federal public lands. The current administration has accelerated the pace of oil and gas leasing on federal lands despite low demand by the industry. Reduced demand causes leases to be offered at much reduced prices. Many leases sell for the legal minimum competitive rate of $2.00 per acre. Leases not receiving competitive bids are offered for $1.50 per acre. As of February 2020, over 22.1 million acres of public lands were leased by oil and gas companies in the West – 10.4 million acres sit idle. The existence of idle leases prevents those lands from being actively managed for conservation, imperiling critical wildlife habitats for species such as the sage grouse, and migration corridors for elk, pronghorn, and mule deer, such as the critical Red Desert-to-Hoback route. We urge the incoming administration to embrace aggressive strategies for reversing climate change. Future leasing of federal lands for hydrocarbon-based fuels must be consistent with needed reductions of greenhouse gasses. Freezing mineral leasing on public lands is a critical first step for reversing the trajectory of climate change, biodiversity declines, and unprecedented species extinctions. Ultimately, leasing of federal lands for hydrocarbon-based fuels should be phased out, and public lands fully protected as wildlife habitat and climate refugia.

17. Restore EPA rules requiring oil and gas companies to eliminate methane leaks. In September 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a final rule to eliminate federal requirements that oil and gas companies install technology to detect and fix methane leaks from wells, pipelines, and storage facilities. The rule also reopens the question of whether the EPA has the legal authority to regulate methane as a pollutant. A federal court held that the rulemaking process was flawed and ordered the rule be vacated. The Justice Department is attempting to overturn the court ruling. Methane can trap more than 80 times more heat in the earth’s atmosphere than carbon dioxide, over the shorter term. Methane emissions from oil and gas production are far larger than previously estimated. Reversing global warming and related climate change effects is a necessary step toward reversing declines in global biological diversity and halting the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth. The incoming administration should instruct the Justice Department to accept the court ruling and restore prior (2016) rules requiring the detection and elimination of methane leaks associate with oil and gas production.

18. Restore USA commitment to Paris Climate Agreement and adopt a plan that addresses the urgent threat of climate change on wildlands, wildlife, and ecosystems as well as our economy, national security, and the future of people’s health. The USA should develop and pursue a path to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. With many regions of the nation burning, experiencing drought or storms of increasing frequency/ magnitude, climate change is no longer in the future. We are experiencing it now. In 2017 the US withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement. With the 3 year window for formal withdrawal closing in November of this year, action must be taken to get the USA into a leading role on addressing climate change on day one of a new administration. As a means to address the climate crisis, heal wounds to Nature, create new jobs, and improve environmental justice the new administration should support the passage of sweeping climate change legislation.

19. Rescind the US Department of the Interior order on electric bikes and issue an executive order that defines electric bikes, mountain bikes, and similar wheeled and mechanized vehicles as off- road vehicles. Science has documented that motorized and mechanized vehicles more negatively impact wildlife than equestrians and hikers. The US Forest Service does not treat mountain bikes as off-road vehicles under Executive Orders 11644 and 11989, and the US Department of the Interior has recently issued a policy directive that it will not treat electric bikes as off-road vehicles. Executive Orders 11644 and 11989, while mentioning an “others” category of recreational off-road vehicles, do not reflect current science or explicitly mention bicycles or other mechanized vehicles. With the explosion in use of motorized and mechanized vehicles, the invention of electric bikes, the proliferation of rogue trails, and increasing damage to environment and wildlife, there needs to be a unified Federal policy towards all vehicles on public lands. The administration should augment these earlier executive orders with one that explicitly considers motorized and mechanized vehicles as off-road vehicles.

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Featured Image:  Dwarf Fireweed and Brooks Range © Dave Foreman

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