Endangered Species Day

Michael Jarnevic

“Until he extends the circle of compassion to ALL living things, man will not himself find peace.”—Albert Schweitzer

Having served in desperate foreign lands and full-blown combat zones, the saving grace for me as a soldier was the thought that I would someday return home to my cherished Montana and the wildlands and wildlife it is known for, and why it is renowned as “the last best place.” Here in the Northern Rockies, of which Montana is a part, we have the last intact, forested ecosystem in the Lower 48; it still possesses everything that Lewis and Clark witnessed in 1804. It is truly the last of what is best.

Many of those species that are representative of this place are endangered or threatened, but are protected by an epic piece of legislation — the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA). Described by the U.S. Supreme Court as “the most comprehensive legislation for the preservation of endangered species enacted by any nation,” the ESA gives unparalleled protection to a wide variety of plants and animals and is a hallmark of what makes this America. As service members and veterans, we especially value protected species because they provide us with spiritual sustenance in a fast-paced, uncertain world, allowing us to connect with the certainty and wisdom of nature. It heals us and gives us reverence — and the indomitable strength of appreciation.

Currently — and sadly — there are elements in the federal government that have watered down this treasured statute and would like nothing more than to see it rescinded altogether. Acting out of ignorance, or greed, or apathy, or all three, they would see iconic species unique to America become extinct and, in their view, conveniently forgotten. Spurred on by industrial interests (read: corporate profits), the roll-backs will make it easier to delist species, make economics the deciding factor in ESA protections, and, render it more difficult to protect species from the ever-increasing threat of climate change. Here in Montana, those species include the Canada lynx, the bull trout, the black-footed ferret, the whooping crane, and — the awe-inspiring being I revere the most — the grizzly bear.

But there is hope for turning this around and restoring legislative sanity: H.R.4348, the PAW and FIN Conservation Act of 2019. Introduced by Rep. Raul Grijalva — arguably the 21st century’s Teddy Roosevelt — this bill would reverse the dreadful decisions made by the Trump administration cabal and restore those protections so valued by Americans — especially veterans. H.R.4348, as written, would reinstate key elements of the ESA by:

• Automatically giving threatened species the same protections as endangered species;

• Revise requirements governing when an agency must consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service about endangered species, threatened species, or their habitats;
Prohibit economic assessments from being considered in listing decisions; and

• Revise the criteria used for designating critical habitats for the species

In short, it would not only restore the ESA, but also strengthen it with further protections; protections badly needed with the advent of climate change.

Whether shivering in a foxhole in Kuwait, traversing some very dangerous areas in Mali and Nigeria, or riding through IED country in Afghanistan, the wild world was always there with me in spirit, nourishing my soul, and keeping my sanity even in the most dire circumstances. To me, it is Congress’ responsibility — and a legislative imperative — to pass the PAW and FIN Conservation Act, thereby protecting endangered species and, in the end, protecting our own species.

Michael Jarnevic is a retired U.S. Army sergeant major with 42 years of continuous service in both the USMC and U.S. Army Special Forces. Currently, he is a freelance writer, outdoor lecturer and environmental activist residing outside of Missoula.