Donald J. Trump, whether you like him or not, is the new President of the United States. That could mean big changes for wildlife policy. During his address to the joint session of congress last week, Trump made it clear that the priorities of his Administration will be far different from those of his predecessor. While life under the Obama Administration proved difficult for many wildlife stakeholders, opportunities to influence future policy at the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), are within reach of those that seize the initiative.
After almost a decade under siege by powerful special interest groups and unfriendly government agencies, it will be interesting to see if stakeholders that were under the knife with Obama go on the offensive under Trump.
Change is in the Air
It’s no secret that agency culture at USDA and FWS became decidedly anti-business and anti-resource use under the Obama Administration. With Hilary Clinton the heir apparent as next in line for the Presidency, animal rights and environmentalist organizations were giddy with prospects for a further expansion of power and influence in a Clinton Administration. However, the unexpected victory of Donald Trump brought those aspirations to a screeching halt. In this new political climate, like their opposition before them, wildlife stakeholders stand to make significant gains of their own.
Unless there are significant economic implications, most wildlife issues will not be a priority for the new Administration. The President made it clear that his focus will be on replacing Obama-care, tax reform, energy production and infrastructure. Most of the administrative regulatory changes previously under review, will likely never see the light of day. But while that may be a relief to many, it is a double edged sword for those who are faced with trying to garner attention to a much needed roll-back of bad regulations already put in place by the outgoing Administration.
Particularly hard hit by rule changes were herpetoculture and antique ivory interests. The arbitrary nature of these rules from FWS have yielded damages to stakeholders that could measure upwards of $100 million in lost jobs, assets and income. The challenge then becomes, when the new Administration is focused on weighty issues like repealing Obama-care and tax reform, how to bring attention to issues like Lacey Act over-reach or the trade of certain rare antiquities?
Wildlife Rules Enacted Under Obama Administration
- FWS — Injurious Wildlife Listing of 9 Constricting Snakes — Python Ban
- FWS — Categorical Exemption from NEPA Requirements on Lacey Act listings — CatX
- FWS — Injurious Wildlife Listing of 201 Salamander Species– Salamnder Ban
- USDA/Aphis — Handling and Husbandry of Neonatal Nondomestic Cats
- FWS — Rule for the African Elephant, Endangered Species Act — Ivory Ban
There are also questions of internal decisions at regional FWS offices regarding limits on the issuance of wildlife take permits for species that have already been approved for specific use. The decision making process appears to be colored by a culture that is decidedly anti-hunting. Mid-level agency administrators are making decisions that are contrary to approved FWS policy. But where there is minimal economic impact, it can be difficult to bring these injustices to the attention of policy makers.
Fear of Loss is a Greater Motivator than Opportunity for Gain
Some believe, contrary to the results they have been able to produce, that grass roots activism has a significant influence on policy direction. There is no doubt that grass roots can have its place, especially in the legislative arena. Ten years ago, when I was the CEO of a trade association, we mounted a massive grass roots campaign defeating HR 669 in the House Natural Resources Committee. Our 50,000 hand written letters had to be carted into committee, and gave members more than enough cover to kill HR 669. However, “fear of loss” motivated that unprecedented response at committee. We are now talking about “opportunity for gain.” If you have been unable to accomplish your agency goals, it is unlikely that writing more letters and making more calls will provide the political leverage needed to effect that change. It can help, but it won’t win the day.
You Need a Plan
Don’t get me wrong, grass roots activism can be very effective, but it works best when it is part and parcel of a comprehensive strategy, not the alpha and omega of your advocacy efforts. You must have a comprehensive plan that sets benchmarks and creates an integrated blueprint for business, communications, fundraising and government affairs. If you can’t clearly see how to reach your goals, the chances of realizing them are slim to none. One thing is for sure, if you continue to do what you have always done, you will continue to get what you have always gotten.
It would be a monumental waste for stakeholders not to take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity for gains in the wildlife sector. Whether it’s making new law, roll-back of bad regulations, or holding agencies accountable, it won’t happen by itself. In order to realize positive change, you must be able to open doors and get your issues in front of those who can make a real difference. You need a plan. It’s not too late, but you have to be in the game to have a chance to win.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What are the benefits of professional advocacy?
- Does grass roots advocacy really work?
- How do I create a strategic business/government affairs plan?
- Is a communications strategy important?
- What is the difference between a bill and a proposed rule?
- How do we get a rule “rolled back?”
- Can we get permitting expedited?
- How can creating a caucus help?
- What is an issue campaign?
- How do we get more than “lip service” from my member of congress?
- How do we get accountable answers from federal agencies?
- Why don’t agency employees care what we want?
- How can we raise funds to pay for advocacy/legal assistance?
Andrew Wyatt is a government affairs and policy consultant that works exclusively in the wildlife sector.
“Wildlife issues are highly charged and contentious. I specialize in articulating clear policy ideas and getting them in front of key decision makers. Please follow ‘The Last Word on Wildlife’ for insight and analysis particular to the 21st century wildlife sector. If you would like to discuss the potential advantages of creating a comprehensive business/government affairs strategy, or a more targeted issue campaign, please call or email me.” ~ Andrew Wyatt
© Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word on Wildlife, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word on Wildlife with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.