La Follette column: Trump’s attacks on CWA, ESA hurt Wisconsin hunting, wildlife

Doug La Follette
Doug La Follette

September is a special month here in Wisconsin. Not only does the beginning of the fall bring back Packers football, autumn leaves and Oktoberfest beers, it also kicks off hunting season for duck, turkey and deer across the state.

And, for many Wisconsinites, these hunting seasons represent the best time of the year, as hundreds of thousands of residents head out to take advantage of the state’s plentiful wildlife.

Hunting is one of our most cherished traditions. Passed down from generation to generation, it has become embedded in our economy, our identity, and our culture. But hunting is heavily reliant on another important tradition: our dedication to the conservation of wildlife itself.

Wisconsin’s hunting culture, its fascination with the outdoors, and even its tourism industry are all dependent upon our passion for the stewardship of wildlife. But, recently, this tradition has been put under significant threat by attacks from the Trump administration and the Republican Party, and that has deep consequences for the future of our state.

Wisconsin has been able to maintain stable populations of wildlife, in part, thanks to two vital federal protections: the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. However, both of these once-bipartisan efforts are being targeted and stripped away by the current administration.


The Clean Water Act (CWA), which was passed in 1972, is generally interpreted by the public in the simplest terms, as a mechanism for the prevention of water pollution in bodies of water like rivers and lakes. But outside of that traditional image of water protection is one of the CWA’s most important functions: wetland conservation.

Between the 1920s and the 1970s, Wisconsin lost about 47% of its wetlands. The CWA has helped dramatically slow this destruction through regulations and other protections.

This is important because wetlands supply vital habitats or resources for 75% of the wildlife in the state, including ducks, deer, cranes and thousands of other species. And it’s why we’ve seen hunting groups, like Ducks Unlimited, and environmental groups, like the Sierra Club, work side by side in advocating for the future of the CWA.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA), was passed the following year, in 1973. This legislation set out to identify and protect endangered species, primarily through the designation and the preservation of critical habitats.

Through federal funding and incentives to states, the ESA has helped save cherished Wisconsin species like the whooping crane, the gray wolf and even the bald eagle from almost certain extinction. And while Wisconsin only has eighteen animals currently listed as threatened or endangered, their protection helps maintain countless other species.

After all, a threatened species indicates a threatened ecosystem, and a protected habitat for a Canada lynx is also a protected habitat for a white-tailed deer. The Endangered Species Act isn’t just important for endangered species, it’s important for our wider preservation of wildlife.

Unfortunately, in recent months, the Trump Administration seems determined to tear down these institutions that help us preserve our wildlife and the traditions that we tie to it. Surrounding the Clean Water Act, the administration is removing a 2015 interpretation that helps extend protection of wetlands from chemical runoff, which affects the mortality and the reproduction of waterfowl and other animals.

On the Endangered Species Act, Trump is removing protections for threatened species and their habitats while making it more difficult to list endangered species. Both of these actions limit our ability to maintain the species and habitats that make this state great, while also limiting our ability to save them if weakened protections cause their demise.


But none of this should come as a surprise. Whether it’s by dismantling the CWA and ESA, opening pristine wildlife refuges to commercial drilling, ignoring habitat-shifting climate disruption, removing public lands protection or almost any other environmental action by this administration, this president has consistently attacked our tradition of wildlife conservation, and in doing so he has attacked our people, our hunting and our state as a whole.

At a time at which climate change is threatening the niches of thousands of Wisconsin species, at which invasive species are posing increased harm to our ecosystems, at which animal diseases are still spreading throughout the state, we should be doubling down on our efforts to protect wildlife, not tearing down our efforts.

Doug La Follette is a scholar, author, longtime environmental advocate, former state senator and current secretary of state for Wisconsin.

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