Changes to the Endangered Species Act will scale back protection to endangered and threatened species that are unique to North America.
The Trump administration announced on Monday it would be changing how the Endangered Species Act works, a measure that many have seen as a scaling back of the US government's protections for endangered species. The main changes include removing the “blanket section 4(d) rule", which allows Fish and Wildlife Service to extend protective measures to threatened species (distinct from endangered species). Without these rules, more species are likely to end up being endangered.
The new rules also make it easier to remove a species from the endangered species list of which there are currently about 1,600 considered officially in the United States. The ESA was a helpful tool that is credited with saving several species like the bald eagle, the grizzly bear, and the American alligator from extinction. Furthermore, animals particular to North America may be the ones who suffer most. The new changes now endanger animals like the North American wolverine, the northern spotted owl, and the American burying beetle.
Other changes include the change in language. While the Act contains the phrase "foreseeable future," which the new rules call "only so far into the future as the Services can reasonably determine" what a threat to a species is. The new "definition" is somewhat ambiguous and could factor a number of scenarios that will allow regulators to ignore long-term future impacts of climate change. Moreover, the administration is now introducing the economic impact, rather than solely scientific evidence, when it comes to listing a species as endangered or threatened. That is, short-term economic goals will now supersede long-term environmental effects.
The Interior Department explained in a press release that the new regulations were an upgrade of the act “designed to increase transparency and effectiveness and bring the administration of the Act into the 21st century." But David Hayes, executive director of the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center and a former deputy of Interior, said to The Hill that the means meant "in all likelihood that the federal government itself and individuals will be damaging the habitat and likely increase the timetable and likelihood of a species going extinct.” Hayes also said the changes would “straitjacket the scientists to take climate change out of consideration” when determining how to best protect wildlife. “We all know that climate change is now the greatest threat ever to hundreds of species.”
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