The Earth is in trouble, largely due to man-made climate change. Despite this well-known fact, the Trump administration effectively gutted perhaps the most important environmental law ever passed: the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The ESA is one of the most popular and most effective environmental legislations in the US. In addition to having saved 99 percent of the species it protects, the law is credited with protecting the grizzly bear and the bald eagle. Truly, it doesn’t get anymore American than that.
Earlier this week, the Department of the Interior, presently headed by former fossil fuel lobbyist David Bernhardt, and the Department of Commerce made sweeping changes to the regulations. As Vice reports, the changes “clarify, interpret, and implement portions of the Act,” according to the text of the final regulations.
Per the new legislation, critical habitats, which are often protected by the ESA to ensure endangered and threatened species thrive, may be limited. In some cases, the land “may not be prudent;” for example, if the habitat threats lie outside the scope of the Act or if the area is found to provide “negligible” conservation value for a chiefly non-US species, the critical habitat may be lessened.
The new rules also require regulators to consider the land where the species lives (rather than consider their ideal habitats) before expanding to unoccupied areas. Furthermore, the new regulations roll back automatic protections for species close to becoming endangered. In the past, species that were designated as “threatened” were automatically given the same protections as endangered species. Now, protections for threatened species will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
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The development falls on the heels of a United Nations report detailing an “unprecedented” decline in biodiversity. Because habitat loss is a primary driver of extinction, environmentalists are concerned that the new regulations will result in the loss of many threatened species. Furthermore, there is a concern that the regulations could lead to the exploitation by fossil fuel companies looking to develop land intended to protect some of the most vulnerable species.
According to Gary Frazer, the Assistant Director for Endangered Species at the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the department plans to continue to list species solely based on scientific pieces of knowledge. Agencies will still be allowed to compile economic data, as well as present it to the public.
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