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Wild California in a Trump Administration

Ryan Zinke
Interior Secretary nominee Ryan Zinke | Photo: Gage Skidmore, some rights reserved

The following commentary is one in a series from KCET and Link TV writers and contributors reflecting on how the incoming president will shape, change, and redefine the future of California.

Expect a full-scale assault on public lands, and the laws that protect wild places and wildlife, from the Trump administration and new Congress - and expect it soon. The Endangered Species Act, the Wilderness Act, the Environmental Protection Agency, and our sacred notion of what it means to be wild, natural and free will be more vulnerable than they have been for decades past.

That much is clear from Trump's cabinet selections — from Ryan Zinke for Interior to Sonny Perdue for Agriculture and Scott Pruitt for EPA. It's bad news for people, for wildlife and for the planet. And we'll feel it deeply in California. Nearly half of California is public land, and that legacy is deeply ingrained in our heritage.

For Californians, there's no place like home: it gets in your blood and your bones; it is the sounds and the smells of the landscape, it is the earth in your shoes. You look down at the soles of your feet and you feel it. That's home. Knowing where you stand with your eyes closed, knowing where you've been by the wear and tear in the treads of your trusted kicks. The unique character of the land and the landscape, the waterways and our wildlife, are rooted in our economy, our identity, our history, and our future.

Yet, from the deserts to the mountains to the valleys to the coastal plains, California is a state divided; despite its reputation, it is not a unified block of blue. Aggressive modifications of the ESA, dismantling of the EPA, and transfer of federal lands to state control, would be welcomed by a large geographical swathe of California. Nearly half our counties voted for Trump. It is crucial to understand this lay of the land as we move forward.

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California has a crucial role to play in setting the stage for the next four years. We have led the charge in wildlife protection laws and banned coyote killing contests, the sale of ivory, the use of lead ammunition in hunting, bear-hounding, captive orca breeding and performances, and bobcat trapping. The California Wildlife Protection Act requires the state budget to set aside $30 million to protect wildlife through the Habitat Conservation Fund. As a result, millions of acres have been protected.

California also leads the nation in groundbreaking environmental policies, and an innovative clean energy market promises economic boon. Fifteen years ago, California was the first state to limit pollution from cars. Ten other states followed. California was also the first state to adopt efficiency standards for appliances, which led to national standards. California's landmark climate change goals aim to derive 50 percent of public utilities from renewable resources by 2030 and to cut emissions by 40 percent (from 1990), the most ambitious policy of its kind in the nation. California leads the pack in environmental policy and we must continue to do so.

However, Trump's team has threatened to remove environmental protections where they impede economic growth, to defund energy initiatives, and block climate change data collection. Instead of cutting carbon emissions, Trump wants to cut efforts to cut carbon emissions. He intends to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

Science must trump politics and we don't have time to pretend otherwise. According to a 2013 study from U.C. Davis, 82 percent of California's native fish species are likely to be driven to the brink of extinction because of climate change. Bees, Chinook salmon, tule elk and sea lions are also in grave danger, among many other vulnerable populations of wildlife - and not only from climate change but from habitat loss and from industry, particularly animal agriculture, logging, and mining.

Even for wolves, from OR-7's incredible journey down from Oregon, to his son's family in Lassen and the Shasta pack, only a handful of individuals exist in remote forests in the northernmost reaches of the state. The presence of a small number of wolves — the first in California in nearly a century — are exceedingly  vulnerable in a Trump administration. Already, federal protections have been lifted in Montana and the Great Lakes, and legislators in Congress are constantly attaching riders to budget bills to remove further protections. Yesterday, environmentalists won a lawsuit against the Idaho Department of Fish & Game and the U.S. Forest Service, after IDFG illegally landed helicopters 120 times in designated wilderness to round up and net-capture elk and collar wolves, in violation of the Wilderness Act, to bolster their case for killing 60 percent of the wolves in the Frank Church Wilderness.

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OR-7 in May 2014 | Photo: OregoneDepartment of Fish and Wildlife

As Secretary of the Interior, 640 million acres of public land will be under Ryan Zinke's charge — and all the water resources, wildlife, and national parks that come with it. In his tenure as a Montana Congressman, he voted more than twenty times against protections for endangered and threatened wildlife. Zinke also supported proposals to pay down the national debt by selling public lands to allow for drilling, fracking and mining on those lands. The House of Representatives has approved a rules package that makes it easier for a massive transfer of federal lands to states.

And that's why many activists are rapidly adjusting their tactics to focus on state and local administration. The federal animal killing program, Wildlife Services, for example, which uses taxpayer funds to kill millions of native wildlife each year in the most brutal and reckless ways imaginable at the behest of industry, will be challenged at the local county level all across California and beyond.

Selling public lands, ignoring climate change, plundering the earth for fossil fuels, increasing the rate of extinction for wildlife and dealing blunt-force trauma to our ecosystems and vital biodiversity shows a total disregard for the future. That disregard is terrifying the world at large.

There is a storm coming. Damage control is not enough. We cannot simply ride this out. California must brazenly show greater regard for the future with sustainable environmental policies and a serious, science-based regard for wildlife and wilderness. But it must also work to include and unite all its diverse citizens, blue, red, green and in between, in recognizing the importance of these policies. Protecting that which is wild and untrammeled by humans, defending public lands and fighting for wildlife protections, is the very essence of patriotism, and a healthy vision for the future.

Banner: Devil's Postpile | Photo: David Seibold, some rights reserved

 

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