I do not usually post about politics, but a lot has been happening with the presidential transition that relates to science and wildlife, and it would feel wrong to not mention it at all. It is no secret that Trump is not a supporter of the environment. He is on record stating that he does not believe in climate change, plans to withdraw from the Paris agreement that outlines steps to reduce carbon emissions, and has recently given his approval to finish construction on two highly controversial pipeline projects (Keystone XL & Dakota Access). This post will not be an uncontrolled rant about Trump. My aim here is just to highlight recent developments in the white house that are related to wildlife and the environment. An astounding number of articles about the topic exists, so I wanted to wade through some to get a quick, comprehensive overview of where biologists/scientists currently stand.
Federal Hiring Freeze
- I think this is the latest, most pressing issue most of my fellow biologists are disagreeing with. From what I have read, the hiring freeze should expire within 90 days once the politicians have come up with a long-term plan to streamline the Federal Government’s workforce. Some people say that this decree is not a major issue because it has rather large loopholes as a result of its vague wording. The memorandum exempts military personnel and jobs that are “deemed necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities.” This action may hit biologists especially hard given that it would take some impressive rewording of contracts to make bird surveys important for public safety or national security.
- As I mentioned earlier, Trump does not believe in climate change. However, Trump nominated Ryan Zinke as the head of the Dept. of the Interior. Zinke, thankfully, at least acknowledges the existence of climate change. One of the more recent developments in this topic is that the staff at the Environmental Protection Agency has been told to freeze all grant making and to issue no press releases or social media posts. The National Park Service (NPS) has also gotten some heat after being temporarily banned from Twitter because of images showing the difference in turnout between Trump and Obama’s inaugurations. The Badlands National Park responded by releasing a slew of now-deleted tweets on climate change in a seemingly blatant attack on the government’s views on this topic. The NPS has apologized for the fiasco and claimed that an unauthorized, former employee was responsible for the controversial tweets. The whole Twitter scandal has led to other scientific agencies also setting up “alternative” or “rogue” Twitter accounts to combat the apparent lack of scientific/environmental views of the Trump administration. The most recent agency to join the online “resistance” is NASA.
Science in General
- Because of the obvious clash between science and the Trump administration, scientists have taken notes from the recent Women’s March day. There are now motions to have a March for Science day. This march is in the early stages, but they have created a website if you want to keep updated on the topic.
- As a member of several scientific societies, I get lots of email updates. Today, I just received an email from the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology that the American Institute of Biological Sciences released an alert that the federal government could begin censoring the distribution of science and encouraged us to write to members of Congress. I find the idea of censoring science extremely concerning, but it is also just a potential possibility as of right now.
- There is some good news for wildlife with the presidential transition. Apparently, the effort to combat wildlife trafficking will continue under the Trump administration. Both republicans and democrats seem to be on the same page with the issue of anti-trafficking. They unanimously approved the Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act this past fall. This support may be founded on the fact that animal trafficking has national security repercussions, including that terrorists are profiting from wildlife trafficking. However, the cause is also supported by major companies, such as Google, which may force the Trump administration to give it the attention it deserves.
- NPR came out with a good Fact Check article that includes more information about other topics that I did not elaborate on in this post, including vaccines, evolution/creationism in schools, and human rights. The National Geographic website also expands on Trump’s views for recreational hunting and fishing.
There are a plethora of articles currently on the web about the Trump administration and their stance on environmental affairs. If you are interested in further information, the articles that I list below are the ones that I reviewed to compile my summary.
How Wildlife May Fare Under Trump (National Geographic)