Order says “Federal agencies shall consider the impacts of climate change” in deciding which “invasive species” to kill, where
WASHINGTON D.C.––Defying U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s implied campaign pledge to undo all executive orders of the incumbent Barack Obama administration having to do with climate change, Obama on December 5, 2016 issued an executive order stating that the effects of climate change are to be taken into account by all government agencies in making any decision which might involve species deemed to be “invasive.”
Will Trump grab feral cats?
This could include decisions pertaining to a range of species ranging from some of the most popular with much of the public, such as wild horses and feral cats, to some of the most feared, for example pythons. Hundreds of species, including feral cats, pythons, and wild horses except for those under jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management, have already been officially deemed “invasive” and thereby targeted for extirpation from federal property.
Entitled Safeguarding the Nation from the Impacts of Invasive Species, the Obama executive order may have set a political booby-trap for Trump, who repeatedly called climate change a “hoax” during the 2016 election campaign.
Safeguarding the Nation from the Impacts of Invasive Species incorporates support for several programs and policies favored by some of Trump’s core constituencies, including hunters and ranchers. But having to consider the effects of climate change as part of pursuing an anti-invasive species policy may be difficult for Trump cabinet appointees.
Mute swans, Canada geese, monk parakeets
Most of the Obama executive order restates Executive Order 13112 of February 3, 1999 (Invasive Species), the order issued by then-U.S. President Bill Clinton that created the cabinet level Invasive Species Council and introduced the term and concept of “invasive species” as a top-tier consideration of federal environmental policy.
Over the next several years a variety of regulatory amendments were introduced, both by executive order and by Acts of Congress, to reinforce opposition to “invasive species.”
In 2004, for instance, a stealth rider to a federal budget bill made permanent an earlier regulatory exclusion of mute swans, Canada geese, monk parakeets, and more than 90 other bird species from the protections afforded by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
Reaffirms a later clause of the Obama executive order, “It is the policy of the United States to prevent the introduction, establishment, and spread of invasive species, as well as to eradicate and control populations of invasive species that are established.”
The Obama executive order defines “invasive species” as meaning, “with regard to a particular ecosystem, a non-native organism whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm, or harm to human, animal, or plant health,” and elaborates that “‘Non-native species or ‘alien species’ means, with respect to a particular ecosystem, an organism, including its seeds, eggs, spores, or other biological material capable of propagating that species, that occurs outside of its natural range.”
“Natural range” is left undefined. Traditional definitions of “natural range” have focused on whether a species occurred in a “particular eco-system” before European colonization and whether the species arrived through natural mechanisms such as the wind, waves, and migratory bird droppings, or was introduced by humans.
“Invasive species” have been introduced through deliberate imports of intended crops gone wild, farmed animals such as donkeys, pigs, goats, horses, and nutria, who subsequently escaped and established free-roaming feral populations, and intentional releases of species to be hunted, including non-migratory giant Canada geese.
Accidental introductions include a multitude of small species such as round gobies and zebra mussels, which were apparently transported into the Great Lakes in ships’ bilgewater.
Climate change vs. “natural range”
Climate change has challenged the traditional concept of “natural range” by transforming entire latitudes so that they have become relatively inhospitable to some species that evolved there, yet more hospitable to introduced species.
Feral pigs, for example, reputedly thriving in Florida since some domestic pigs escaped from Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1539, have within the past several decades extended their range to the whole of the continental U.S. south of the winter snowbelt, which has over the same time moved about 200 miles northward.
Continued the Obama executive order, with more applicability to disease-carrying insects such as mosquitoes than to most “invasive” mammals, birds, and reptiles, “Invasive species pose threats to prosperity, security, and quality of life. The introduction, establishment, and spread of invasive species create the potential for serious public health impacts, especially when considered in the context of changing climate conditions. Climate change influences the establishment, spread, and impacts of invasive species.”
“Climate change” mentioned twice more
A later paragraph orders that, “Federal agencies shall consider the impacts of climate change when working on issues relevant to the prevention, eradication, and control of invasive species, including in research and monitoring efforts, and integrate invasive species into Federal climate change coordinating frameworks and initiatives.”
Several paragraphs after that the Obama order describes itself as incorporating “considerations of human and environmental health, climate change, technological innovation, and other emerging priorities into Federal efforts to address invasive species.”
Amend or rescind?
Observed InsideClimate News producer and editor Sabrina Shankman on November 23, 2016, “President Barack Obama issued 263 executive orders during his eight years in office, at least 35 of them dealing with climate change, energy or the environment. When President-elect Donald Trump takes office, revoking some of those executive orders could be among his first acts, because it can be done without Congress, by the simple stroke of a pen.”
But Trump would appear to be more likely to amend the Obama executive order Safeguarding the Nation from the Impacts of Invasive Species than to wholly rescind it.
Trump & Gore
Whether and how Trump may amend Safeguarding the Nation from the Impacts of Invasive Species might have been among the topics of discussion at a 90-minute meeting between Trump and former U.S. vice president Albert Gore on December 5, 2016 at Trump Tower in New York City.
Gore, reputedly the behind-the-scenes author of Executive Order 13112 of February 3, 1999 (Invasive Species), “has spent decades warning about the dire consequences of unchecked man-made climate change,” summarized National Public Radio reporter Don Gonyea of the unscheduled Trump/Gore discussion.
“Initially, the session was not even expected to include the president-elect,” said Gonyea. “According to the transition spokesperson, it was scheduled as a sit-down between Gore and Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, who is a member of the official transition team. Ivanka Trump, 35, is also an executive with the Trump Organization, and Trump has described her as one of his most trusted advisers.
“There was no preview of the agenda for the former vice president and the president-elect’s daughter,” Gonyea continued. “Politico reported last week that Ivanka, who is expected to play some of the social roles typically occupied by the first lady, is interested in making climate change one of her signature issues,” despite having little previous public record of interest in it.
Back to 1999
Executive Order 13112 of February 3, 1999 (Invasive Species) “called upon executive departments and agencies to take steps to prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species, and to support efforts to eradicate and control invasive species that are established,” the Obama executive order recalls.
“Executive Order 13112 also created a coordinating body––the Invasive Species Council, also referred to as the National Invasive Species Council––to oversee implementation of the order,” the Obama order restates.
Political climate change favored USDA Wildlife Services
Through Executive Order 13112 of February 3, 1999 (Invasive Species), then-U.S. President Bill Clinton reinforced and enormously expanded the role of USDA Wildlife Services.
This came only seven months after USDA Wildlife Services, called Animal Damage Control until 1986, was almost abolished by Congress. The primary and almost exclusive role of the agency had historically been killing livestock predators on behalf of western ranchers.
Indeed, USDA Wildlife Services, with a 1998 budget of $28.7 million, was killed by the U.S. House of Representatives in June 1998, as an alleged money-wasting boondoggle. The agency budget was reinstated only after frantic rancher lobbying.
Executive Order 13112 of February 3, 1999 (Invasive Species) made USDA Wildlife Services the enforcement arm of the policies issued by the Invasive Species Council.
The Clinton administration thereby forged what has proven to be a lasting strategic alliance between many western ranchers and some of the major conservation organizations with whom they had been locked in apparently intractable and perpetual opposition over critical habitat designations.
Especially contentious at the time were critical habitat designations involving grazing land leased by ranchers from the federal Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and National Park Service.
Militias & gas
Resistance to environmental restrictions on leased grazing land continues, and was a focal issue for the far-right militia members who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon for 41 days in early 2016. The Trump administration, however, appears to be more concerned with rules that inhibit fossil fuel and mineral extraction.
Meanwhile, having discovered the donor appeal of pledges to fight “alien” and “invasive” species, amid a growing climate of public anxiety over both legal and illegal immigration from Latin America, several of the biggest U.S. wildlife and habitat conservation organizations responded to the Clinton administration Executive Order 13112 of February 3, 1999 (Invasive Species) by shifting rhetorical gears.
Instead of blaming livestock for habitat damage contributing to the decline of “native” species in the Rocky Mountains and Southwest, as had been the pattern of the preceding several decades, the trend evolved to scapegoating––literally, in the case of feral goats––“non-native” animals and plants other than those of economic value.
The Nature Conservancy and Natural Resources Defense Council, in particular, moved from postures of antipathy toward much of the work of USDA Wildlife Services to alignment with ranchers in favor of expanding USDA Wildlife Services to kill “non-native” species, as they were mostly called during the Clinton years. Many ranchers at the same time became allies of major national conservation organizations in opposition to expansion of hydrofracking to extract oil and natural gas, pipeline construction, and increased use of mountain top removal and open pit coal mining.
From $28.7 million to $121 million
After George W. Bush was elected president to succeed Clinton, over Gore, and especially after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the “non-native” designation for adaptive wildlife was mostly replaced by the more emotionally evocative terms “alien” and “invasive.”
Under Bush, a Republican, the USDA Wildlife Services budget expanded to $78 million in fiscal 2007, nearly three times the 1998 budget.
Under Obama, a Democrat, the USDA Wildlife Services budget has increased to $121 million, despite renewed efforts by Oregon Member of the House of Representatives Peter DeFazio in 2011-2012 to effect about $10 million in cuts.
Addition of “climate change” is only big change
Except for introducing climate change as a consideration in governmentally addressing “invasive species,” the Obama executive order adds little to Executive Order 13112 of February 3, 1999 (Invasive Species).
The Obama order does expand the membership of the Invasive Species Council to include more members of the Cabinet than the 1999 order, and directs that “by December 31, 2019, the Council shall publish a National Invasive Species Council Management Plan, which shall, among other priorities identified by the Council, include actions to further the implementation of the duties of the National Invasive Species Council.”