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  by  Leon Kolankiewicz
The Trump administration recently finalized new rules that it insists will “modernize” the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Unsurprisingly, environmental groups and their media allies are expressing alarm, while extractive industries aligned with Trump reassure the public that the new rules represent an improvement for everyone, not least threatened and endangered species.

Yet neither the Trump administration nor its harshest environmentalist detractors are willing to recognize or resolve the greatest threat to all wildlife in the United States: large-scale habitat loss from incessant U.S. population growth.

The Canada Lynx (Lynx canadensis) is listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Habitat loss endangers wildlife much more than other causes such as pollution, toxics, invasive species, road mortality, or poaching.

Propelled primarily by the largest, unabated flows of immigration in U.S. history, America’s population increased by 60 million from 1990 to 2010, at a rate of 30 million a decade. Millions more have been added this decade as well, and now there are almost 330 million U.S. residents.

American families have averaged fewer than two children for years; thus, future U.S. population growth in our country will be almost entirely due to unrelenting mass immigration, but only if Americans continue to allow this to happen.

NumbersUSA’s studies on urban sprawl indicate that each added person – each new American consumer, whether native-born or foreign-born – is, on average, responsible for the loss of about half an acre of natural habitat or farmland. These lands are developed to meet our ever-rising demands for housing, roads, commercial and office buildings, utility infrastructure, worksites, educational and government facilities, and so forth.

A 2019 study by scientists with Conservation Science Partners for the Center for American Progress called out urban, agricultural, energy, and transportation stressors as the major causes in the loss and fragmentation of natural habitat in the lower 48 states. Population growth exacerbates each of these factors.

For example, more people need more farmland to cultivate the crops that become the food with which they are fed. More people means more aggregate energy production and consumption, hence more land needed for petroleum exploration and development, coal mines, wind farms, solar arrays, and so forth.

The Conservation Science Partners study concluded that expansion and intensification of land uses in the U.S. resulted in a steady, relentless loss of natural areas between 2001 and 2017. In these 16 years alone, more than 24 million acres of natural lands and habitats were permanently modified or lost to development.

Just how substantial this loss is can be grasped by comparing it to the areas of some of our largest, most beloved national parks, our “crown jewels.” The natural habitats lost in just 16 years were equivalent in size to almost nine Grand Canyon National Parks, more than 10 Yellowstone NPs, or 49 Great Smoky Mountains NPs.

On average, more than 1.5 million acres were lost every year. The urban stressor accounted for 57 percent of all natural lands lost during the 16-year study period. Urban sprawl consumes more natural habitat than all other major causes combined.

The ESA, signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1973, now lists 1,275 species and subspecies of plants and animals as endangered (at risk of extinction in the wild) and another 388 as threatened (at risk of becoming endangered). Being listed entitles a species to protections that substantially increase its prospects for survival. One measure is designating “critical habitat” deemed crucial for an imperiled population’s recovery.

The bald eagle, osprey, peregrine falcon, brown pelican, California condor, whooping crane, alligator, crocodile, manatee and many other species all owe their continued existence and recovery to the ESA.

Environmental conservation is clearly not President Trump’s highest priority, especially when it interferes with, say, increasing energy production. Thus, it’s understandable that conservationists are concerned that the administration’s new rules will weaken important provisions of the ESA, like those on critical habitat designation.

Endangered whooping crane with sandhill cranes. The Endangered Species Act has been crucial to this magnificent crane’s slow recovery.

What is not understandable is how most contemporary environmental groups and reputed wildlife defenders acquiesce meekly to relentless, habitat-destroying U.S. population growth.

Around the time of the first Earth Day in 1970, when there were 130 million fewer Americans than at present, environmental scientists, activists and even politicians were outspoken and unequivocal on the threat posed by a growing U.S. population. The Sierra Club’s legendary executive director David Brower spoke for the environmental movement when he said: “We feel you don’t have a conservation policy unless you have a population policy.”

Earth Day Founder Senator Gaylord Nelson spoke out constantly about overpopulation back then. Later, as the cause of U.S. population growth shifted from too many births to too much immigration, Nelson was outspoken about the need to reduce immigration. The same environmentalists who had once lauded him then largely ignored him, because they chose being politically correct over being environmentally correct.

President Nixon addressed Congress in 1968 about overpopulation, and his Rockefeller Commission recommended in 1973 that America halt population growth. Commissions reporting to Presidents Carter and Clinton also recommended U.S. population stabilization – and immigration control – to save our environment from ever-increasing stresses.

A strong ESA is vital to saving endangered species, but it’s no panacea. If American conservationists continue to acquiesce to immigration-driven population growth – a U.S. with more than 400 million Americans by 2060, more than half a billion by 2100 – the effectiveness of the ESA will be undermined and overwhelmed at every turn by too many people.

As this century unfolds, if the number of species listed as endangered actually falls, it will not be because these creatures have been rescued from extinction, but because they have vanished forever. And the self-righteous environmental establishment will be complicit for its silence on the main cause of these creatures' demise.

LEON KOLANKIEWICZ is the Scientific Director for NumbersUSA

Updated: Mon, Sep 16th 2019 @ 10:34am EDT

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