Amid ongoing political attacks by some in the Trump administration and Congress on the Endangered Species Act, a new report by National Parks Conservation Association and Defenders of Wildlife underscores the mutual and far-reaching benefits of the law to protect and recover threatened and endangered fish, plants and wildlife. The report provides further proof that it is not in the best interests of our state and economy to dismantle the ESA and undermine Wyoming’s rich heritage of fish and wildlife conservation.
The report, “Win/Win: The Endangered Species Act and Our National Parks,” underscores the values of the ESA to the conservation of fish and wildlife in the National Parks System and the financial well-being of park gateway communities here in Wyoming. The release of this report is timely, as the current administration continues to push revising and even rolling back the Endangered Species Act, which has been a highly successful tool in protecting thousands of species since it was enacted nearly 50 years ago.
A new comprehensive database accompanying the report shows that national parks provide habitat to more than 600 threatened and endangered species, including the Canada lynx in Grand Teton and Yellowstone. Just one percent of species listed under the ESA have been declared extinct, and many are on the path to recovery, like the grizzly bear here in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
Wyoming has led on conservation issues, from protecting native fish species such as the Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout to instituting the first-of-its-kind Wildlife and Natural Resources Trust Fund. Wyomingites value wildlife based on our long legacy of fish and wildlife stewardship and our expansive open space habitat. Our public lands and national parks support the full suite of species that were found here when Europeans first arrived. The fact that these species are still present can be directly attributed to the success of the ESA in recovering species – many that were on the brink of extinction when President Richard Nixon signed the ESA into law in 1973.
The ESA is still working today. The success of the ESA in recovering imperiled species within and around our national parks benefits our communities on every level, from jobs to recreation to the economy, and it is vital that our leaders recognize the value of the Act and its contribution to our tourism economy. In 2017, the tourism industry, the second largest industry in Wyoming, largely driven by our national parks and their wildlife, attracted 8.7 million overnight visitors, whose $3.5 billion in spending directly benefited Wyoming’s bottom-line by generating $188 million in local and state tax revenues. The new report highlights a 2014 study of roadside bear viewing in Yellowstone, which concluded that, without the bears, park visitation would likely decline by 5 percent. For neighboring communities, that could translate to a loss of 155 jobs and $10 million in annual economic benefits.
Americans across the country, and here in Wyoming, are deeply concerned by efforts to weaken the ESA. President Trump’s nominee to become Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt, is soon expected to finalize ESA proposed regulations that would undermine the conservation of endangered and threatened fish and wildlife, ultimately making recovery of endangered animals and plants more costly and difficult. This comes on top of an unprecedented number of legislative attacks on the ESA introduced in the last Congress that would reduce protections for threatened and endangered species across the country, including in national parks.
These political actions could have a devastating effect on our collective ability to recover threatened and endangered wildlife and could have significant impacts on Wyoming’s tourist economy. The ESA is strong in Wyoming and across the country. Let’s keep it that way.