by Meg McIntire
With the presidential election fast approaching, Americans are facing a significant fork in the road. Two different paths, two different possible realities. The differences between the candidates of the two major parties could not be greater, especially when considering the future of our public lands and the wildlife that calls them home. Obviously views on climate change, environmental regulations and land usage are all important factors when it comes to the survival of the country’s wildlife, but gun control, party ties to the NRA and hunting regulations are also significant elements to wildlife wellbeing too.
By combining stances on gun and environmental policy, we’ve been able to predict what alternate realities face the American landscape, its people and wildlife depending on the outcome of the looming presidential election.
The Republican Party, which is wholly owned by special interest groups like the National Rifle Association, the Cattlemen’s Association, and fossil fuel industries, has also taken every opportunity in recent years to attach legislative riders for the sole purpose of crippling and defunding major programs within the Endangered Species Act; a law designed to protect imperiled animals.
According to findings in a 2015 report called Politics of Extinction by the Center for Biological Diversity attacks to undermine the ESA have increased by 600 percent over all other attempts in 15 years, due to Republican efforts.
The Center’s report also identified five Republicans, who have received millions of campaign dollars to do the bidding of special interest groups that work in contrast to the goals of protecting wildlife and endangered species. They are Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah).
Republican leadership would also mean more threats to federal and public lands if we’ve learned anything from the recent Oregon Wildlife Refuge Takeover by Ammon Bundy and a group of anti-government extremists. At the date of this article being published, Republicans have denied hearing requests by the Democrats about the takeover and the Majority has so far largely refused to condemn the actions of Bundy and the rest of the armed extremists.
The unwillingness to condemn anti-government extremists armed with lethal weapons also springs from Republican ties with the NRA, which goes to great lengths (and spends a huge sum of money) to defend the right to bear arms. It is opposed to virtually every form of gun regulation and actively promotes hunting. The NRA also endorsed Donald Trump, who has been adamant about his policy promise to eliminate gun-free zones, which exist at some schools and at military bases.
In a world where a Republican candidate was elected and the party was able to gain control of the House and Senate, you’d expect to see huge cutbacks when it comes to government’s role in environmental protections.
With one of the party’s front-runners as president, it’s practically guaranteed that the Environmental Protection Agency would have its funding dramatically slashed. In fact, Trump has suggested in interviews that he would completely do away with the Environmental Protection Agency (but we shouldn’t worry because the “environment will be just fine.”)
Any actions to prevent or reverse climate change would also come to a complete halt since both candidates consider it to be a non-issue. Some Republicans in Congress believe that carbon dioxide (CO2) “is good for plant life,” that the planet “is greener right now” than in the past, and that “for significant periods in history, prior to the industrial revolution, there has been markedly more CO2 in our atmosphere that could not have come from the burning of fossil fuels.” One representative also believes that “for the past 18 years … there has been no significant warming whatsoever” and that the current computer models used to understand global climate trends “are profoundly wrong … and inconsistent with the evidence and the data.”
If our country ends up in the hands of the Democratic party, you can be assured we will have leadership that embraces science and agree that action on climate issues and diminishing wildlife populations is sorely needed. Democrats in Congress have upheld the Endangered Species Act as a way to conserve threatened species and create progress for wildlife. The Democratic members on the House Committee on Natural Resources say that successes like the recovery and delisting of the bald eagle, American alligator, and gray whale, along with the unprecedented state-federal partnership to conserve the greater sage-grouse, show that the law can be both flexible and effective.
House Democrats have also been raising new concerns about wealthy Americans hunting imperiled species in Africa and have released a report detailing how trophy-hunting fees do not aid conservation, an argument long-held by hunters.
Democratic leadership would also mean expanded protections for wildlife. One example is how Democratic Senators from Delaware recently helped pass bill that “strengthens protections for Delaware’s natural resources by helping the state identify and appropriately punish those who commit egregious crimes against wildlife.” Many other Democratic Congressional members have helped draft or pass legislation in their own states that designates land as wildlife preserves or state parks as well.
When it comes to leadership, Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton has shown her dedication to wildlife. Clinton has long opposed and worked against the international ivory trade, announcing a new global effort in 2013 to protect Africa’s wild elephants from poaching, part of a long-running personal crusade for the former secretary of state. Clinton joined the presidents of several African nations and wildlife preservation advocates to unveil an $80 million, three-year program aimed at ending ivory trafficking, including new park guards at major elephant ranges and sniffer-dog teams at global transit points.
Her Congressional record also shows that she has voted time and again to extend protections to domestic and wild animals, like co-sponsoring Senate Bill 311, a ban on the transport, possession, purchase, and sale of horses to be slaughtered for human consumption and Senate Bill 261 which would establish felony-level penalties for violations of the federal law on dog fighting, cockfighting, and other animal fighting.
Ties to the NRA and other pro-hunting groups are also mostly absent when it comes to the Democratic party. Clinton has laid out a 7 step plan to increase gun control and challenge gun lobby by comprehensive background checks, repealing the law that grants immunity to gun makers facing lawsuits, a ban on assault weapons, tightening gun show and Internet sales, and keeping guns from domestic abusers and people with serious mental health problems.
Democrats in Congress have also worked to block an omnibus package of special favors for trophy hunters, pack hunters, ivory dealers, and users of lead ammunition that has been backed by groups like the NRA and Safari Club International called the SHARE Act and the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act.
Ultimately, the decision that is made in November could have huge repercussions for our environment and wildlife depending on which reality American’s choose to create. So will the new leaders of Congress embrace their historic role as stewards of our air, land, water and wildlife? Or will they view this as their chance to gut federal environmental protections as right wing groups and polluting industries have long desired? Whatever the outcome, one thing is certain...that Friends of Animals will be in the thick of the fight no matter which way it goes.