Sunday, 25 August, 2019

Government announces changes to endangered species protections

Smith Collection  gado  Getty Images
A monarch butterfly collects nectar from a flower in the People's Garden in Washington D.C. in 2014 Smith Collection gado Getty Images A monarch butterfly collects nectar from a flower in the People's Garden in Washington D.C. in 2014
Steven Clarke | 13 August, 2019, 16:43

The Department of the Interior is changing the way the 1970s-era Endangered Species Act - credited with helping save the bald eagle, grizzly bear and others since its inception by then-President Richard Nixon - will be implemented across the country, as announced by the agency early Monday.

"It looks like they're trying to say, if you are a sea- ice dependent species we're not going to protect that sea ice habitat as critical habitat", she said.

Several Oregon species now being considered for listing under the ESA would be subject to the new rules.

To date the Endangered Species Act, one of the world's most effective environmental laws, has managed to preserve an estimated 99 percent of listed species, including the Florida manatee, bald eagle, American alligator and many others.

US Fish and Wildlife Service Assistant Director Gary Frazer said they won't speculate that a species could be negatively impacted. "The sweeping changes made in these new regulations, however, will diminish the effectiveness of the Act and further imperil species already on the brink of extinction".

Critics said the rule change would speed the extinction of many species, and was done just to allow industries to expand onto land required for ecological diversity.

Budd-Falen is a longstanding opponent of the Endangered Species Act and public lands, whose previous roles include advocating for private-property rights and serving as attorney for the notorious Cliven Bundy family.

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Drew Caputo, from the group Earthjustice, threatened to sue, saying: "This effort to gut protections for endangered and threatened species has the same two features of most Trump administration actions: it's a gift to industry, and it's illegal". "Another change could let authorities disregard impacts from climate change, one of the largest threats to habitat, conservation groups said".

John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican who leads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said Monday's changes in enforcement were "a good start" but he would continue working to change the act.

"The ESA directs that determinations to add or remove a species from the lists of threatened or endangered species be based exclusively on the best available scientific and commercial information, and these will remain the only criteria on which listing determinations will be based", Bernhardt said. It came hours after the administration announced broad changes to the way the government would enforce endangered species protections.

Since taking office, the Trump administration has targeted more than 80 environmental and health regulations in the name of easing regulatory burdens on business. Here are some ways in which the rule will force science to take a backseat in listing decisions.

"It is particularly egregious that the Trump Administration is steamrolling through unpopular rules issued by an Interior Secretary embroiled in at least 17 scandals", Endangered Species Coalition Executive Director Leda Huta said in a statement. If we expected this to happen, then the government could designate those areas as critical habitat. Its goal, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), is to help species recover to the point that they no longer need federal protection.

As my former colleague Charise Johnson wrote when this rule was proposed, "The proposal adds economic considerations in the process for deciding if a species is in fact threatened or endangered, instead of making it a purely scientific decision". But we challenge these actions by this administration because it is necessary. "We must modernize the Endangered Species Act in a way that empowers states, promotes the recovery of species, and allows local economies to thrive".

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