For people who worry about the nation’s (and the world’s) rapidly dwindling wildlife, the only vaguely good news about Donald Trump’s election might just be that he doesn’t care. This is a guy whose ideas about nature stop at “water hazard” and “sand trap.” Look up his public statements about animals and wildlife on votesmart.com, and the answer that bounces back is “no matching public statements found.” It’s not one of those things he has promised to ban, deport, dismantle, or just plain “schlong.”
More good news (and you may sense that I am stretching here): Trump is not likely to appoint renegade rancher and grazing-fee deadbeat Cliven Bundy to head the Bureau of Land Management. When Field and Stream magazineasked Trump early this year if he endorsed the Western movement to transfer federal lands to state control (a plank in the Republican platform), he replied: “I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do. I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble? And I don’t think it’s something that should be sold.”
This was no doubt the real estate developer in him talking, but his gut instinct against letting go of land will surely outweigh the party platform. “We have to be great stewards of this land,” Trump added. “This is magnificent land.” Asked if he would continue the long downward trend in budgets for managing public lands, Trump said he’d heard from friends and family that public lands “are not maintained the way they were by any stretch of the imagination. And we’re going to get that changed; we’re going to reverse that.”
This was apparently enough, in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s upset election, for Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife, to suggest that “we share common interests in the protection of America’s wildlife and our great systems of public lands, which provide endless opportunities for outdoor recreation, wildlife observation, and other pursuits that all Americans value.”
Meanwhile, pretty much all others active on wildlife issues were looking as if the floor had just dropped out from under them, plunging them into a pool of frenzied, ravenous Republicans. At the website for the Humane Society, where a pre-election posting warned that a Trump presidency would pose “an immense and critical threat to animals,” an apologetic notice said, “The action alert you are attempting to access is no longer active.”
They have reason to be nervous. Trump has surrounded himself with political professionals who do not think sweet thoughts about wildlife. Newt Gingrich, for instance, loves animals—but mainly in zoos rather than in inconvenient places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Reince Priebus, a likely choice for chief of staff, was part of a Tea Party revolution in Wisconsin that put Gov. Scott Walker in power. Just to give you a sense of what that could mean for a Trump administration, Walker handed over control of state parks and other lands to the hook-and-bullet set while shutting out biologists and conservationists. Chris Christie? Rudy Giuliani? Let’s just not talk about them.
Trump’s main advisers on wildlife appear to be his sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, and they seem to care only about hunting and fishing. Donald Jr. has publicly expressed a wish to run the Department of the Interior, though his only known qualification for the job is his family name. More likely, as he told Outdoor Life during the campaign, he will help vet the nominees for Interior, “and I will be there to make sure the people who run the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and so on know how much sportsmen do for wildlife and conservation and that, for the sake of us all, they value the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.”
You may be stumbling over that Christ-like phrase “for the sake of us all.” But you should really be worrying about the “North American Model.” It’s a code phrase for managing public lands primarily for hunting and fishing and only secondarily, if at all, for nongame species—or for hiking, bird-watching, camping, or other uses. In practice it can mean eradicating wolves because hunters consider them competition for elk or moose. (Donald Jr.: “We need to reduce wolves and rebuild those herds.”) It can mean cutting back funding for songbird habitat and spending it instead on fish stocking.
Like his father, Donald Jr. has opposed selling public lands, mostly because it “may cost sportsmen and women access to the lands.” But he believes states should help govern federal lands, calling shared governance “especially critical when we pursue our idea of energy independence in America. As has been proven in several of our Western States, energy exploration can be done without adverse affects [sic] on wildlife, fisheries or grazing.” (America has come tantalizingly close to energy independence under President Obama—without moving new drilling rigs onto public lands—and there is no evidence for the broad-brush notion that energy exploration is harmless to wildlife.)
Two other major considerations to keep in mind: If Trump goes ahead with his favorite plan to build a wall on the Mexican border, it would cut off vital migratory routes and habitat for jaguars, ocelots, desert bighorn sheep, black bears, and many other species. (It might also impede the flow of fed-up Mexicans heading south.)
Likewise, trashing the Paris Agreement on climate change, as Trump has promised to do, would gain the United States nothing and risk committing the planet irrevocably to warmer temperatures, extreme weather events, and massively destructive coastal flooding. That doesn’t make sense even from a business perspective, and much less so for wildlife. The first documented extinction of a species by human-caused climate change occurred this year, when the Bramble Cay melomys succumbed to rising sea levels in its South Pacific island home. Thousands of other species also face disruption of their habitat and the likelihood of imminent extinction.
The bottom line is that a Trump administration is likely to be good for mining, drilling, logging, and the hook-and-bullet set. But for wildlife and for Americans at large? We are facing four dangerous years of self-serving gut instinct and reckless indifference to science, with the damage to be measured, as climate activist Bill McKibben put it the other day, “in geologic time.”
If you are feeling as if a Trump victory is the end of the world as we know it, you may just be right.