Trump Administration's Proposal Could See Major Changes To The Endangered Species Act


On Thursday, the Interior Department announced plans to roll back legislation designed to protect the US' endangered and threatened species. These amendments to the Endangered Species Act are yet to become law but could be ratified by the end of the year.

The proposal is said to be "streamlining" and "modernizing" a 45-year-old act, but many critics say it is part of a systematic attack on the environment to appease industry figures and Republican Congressmen, who have been lobbying against the law for decades. It also comes in the wake of a raft of changes seeking to weaken animal and environmental protections, including the reversal of a ban on elephant trophies and an offshore drilling proposal, which will threaten 68 national park sites.


"The changes to the Act would introduce more routes for political interference," Charise Johnson said, writing on behalf of the Union of Concerned Scientists, "while relegating science to an afterthought instead of the basis upon which Endangered Species Act decisions are made." 

The proposed changes would make it easier to delist endangered species and make it harder to protect lands near endangered species habitats. It will also remove the scope of protection currently afforded to animals listed as threatened, which (as of right now) is the same as those listed as endangered. Instead, protection will be decided on a case-by-case basis. 

“When some of our listing decisions have been challenged, courts have sometimes appeared to set a higher bar for removing a species from a list than putting it on – that takes valuable resources away from species that do need that determination under the act,” said Greg Sheehan, deputy director of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), The Hill reports.

The changes could also remove current stipulations requiring federal agencies to consult scientists and environmental agencies before granting building permits for activities such as oil and gas drilling. The act, as it stands at the moment, requires officials to act in whichever way is best for the endangered species, ignoring economic interests. But this too may be amended if the proposal goes through.


Critics have slammed the decision, saying it will put the 1,600 plant and animal species on the list at risk.

"These proposals would slam a wrecking ball into the most crucial protections for our most endangered wildlife," Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement released Thursday. "If these regulations had been in place in the 1970s, the bald eagle and the gray whale would be extinct today. If they’re finalized now, Zinke will go down in history as the extinction secretary."

Meanwhile, a timely study assessed public opinion and found the American people almost unanimously stand behind the act. A survey of 1,287 people suggests four in five are in favor and just one in 10 oppose it.

"I don't think at any time, maybe since the act was passed, have there been this many members of Congress working in direct opposition to the act, but that doesn't mean that they're acting in the interests of the people they represent," Jeremy Bruskotter, author of the study, said in a statement.

The Florida panther used to roam several southeastern states, but its range is now restricted to southern Florida. In the seventies, numbers were as low as 20. As of 2015, there are believed to be 230 of these big cats. (US Fish and Wildlife Service) Drew Horne/Shutterstock


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