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The threatened ESA; Canada’s contradicting climate goals; revolutionary consumers

HCN.org news in brief


For years, House Republicans have tried to modify and weaken the Endangered Species Act. But in December, Utah Rep. Rob Bishop went even further and said that the law is so dysfunctional that lawmakers may “simply have to start over again” and “repeal it and replace it.” Antipathy toward the act dates back to its 1973 passage, but Republicans stepped up efforts to weaken it in the 1990s, blaming several listings for economic travails. The attacks on the law haven’t let up since, even though environmentalists have challenged claims that protection blocks development. If it’s repealed, protections could vary widely, and since states get a portion of their funds from hunting licenses and fees, one obvious pitfall could be incentives for them to prioritize game management over at-risk species. Pat Parenteau, a Vermont Law School professor, says: “The truth is the (ESA) isn’t the pitbull of environmental law. It’s a poodle.”
-Joshua Zaffos  

The tiny Delta smelt is notorious among opponents of the Endangered Species Act because efforts to save it have contributed to farm closures and water reductions, yet its population continues to decline.
John Ridilla/ USFW

By some measures, the National Park Service’s centennial year, during which the agency focused marketing campaigns to drive traffic, was a resounding success. Within the Park Service’s 413 units by the end of 2016, the agency smashed all-time records, welcoming nearly 325 million visitors and far surpassing the prior record of 307 million, set in 2015. Thirteen parks surpassed the 2 million mark in visitation, while 11 reached that level in 2015. But such overcrowding also increases adverse hiker behavior and vandalism. The most profound impacts could be longer-lasting: Wildlife increasingly succumbs to traffic-related deaths, and the most sensitive landscapes are the most strained and damaged. National Park Service staff struggled just to keep up.
-Glenn Nelson/Trail Posse

500,000 more visitors have visited each of these five parks —Yosemite, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains and Glacier — in 2016 than in 2015.

35 MILES of “social trails,” unplanned paths created by unauthorized foot traffic, now exist in Zion National Park. There are only 15 miles of designated trails.


"(It is) inconceivable that a ­country would find billions of barrels of oil and leave it in the ground while there is a market for it."

—Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during an announcement of a series of oil sands pipeline approvals.

Since 2015, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has issued plans for a new nationwide carbon tax, begun phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, and set a goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050. But a rash of new fossil fuel projects run counter to Trudeau’s environmental record and cast doubt on whether Canada can meet its climate goals.
-Sarah Tory

This year, as always, we reported many stories in the region, but we also covered some of the little-known corners of the always-surprising West. That included photos of a rare “super bloom” in Death Valley, members of an unauthorized “border patrol” and a man who braves frigid waters to harvest sea cucumbers.

Matt Mills McKnight

John Curley

Prominent among President Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees are friends of the energy industry, such as Scott Pruitt, who is slated to run the Environmental Protection Agency (an agency he is currently suing), and possible Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the chief executive of Exxon Mobil. In an opinion column, HCN Managing Editor Brian Calvert suggests an antidote to corporate takeover. “True power … has been organizing itself around the logic of corporate capitalism for a long time,” Calvert writes. “We have equally obvious ways to resist: By changing the way we spend.”
-Brian Calvert, Opinion

You say

Bryan Johnson:Mr. Calvert is implying that a vote in 21st century American democracy is rooted in how we engage with capitalism. … Not everybody has the privilege and luxury to sit back and wait it out, particularly queer and trans folks, people of color, and immigrants.”

Ruby Ram: Something is seriously off with our culture when suggestions of the only way we can be ‘heard’ is by shutting up and just not buying stuff.”

Charles Fox:Voting with our dollars is what we do every day, so much more frequently than voting for president every four years. In a sense, our vote for president becomes almost trivial compared to the thousands of votes we cast … through our consumption habits.”