Trump Aims to Limit Protections in Endangered Species Act

The Endangered Species Act is credited with saving dozens of key species from extinction including bald eagles

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries announced Thursday proposed revisions to the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The proposal will also prohibit designation of critical habitat for species threatened by climate change, even though in many cases these species are also threatened by habitat destruction and other factors.

The changes include potential limits on habitat protections, an end to automatic protections for threatened plants and animals, and streamlining inter-agency consultations when federal government actions could jeopardize a species.

However, U.S. Interior Department Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt ensured that the new rules will be "very protective". Trump's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been under heavy scrutiny by Democrats and environmental activists alike. "Rather than shooting holes in a law that works, Secretary Zinke and the Trump Administration should seek to improve the law's implementation by asking Congress to fully fund recovery efforts for endangered species".

Bernhardt's proposals modify key terms originally meant to strike balanced solutions for government agencies, landowners and environmentalists to protect and restore endangered species and the natural resources they need to complete their life cycles. But the definition of "foreseeable future" has been vague. According to the Interior Department, it will "make it clear that it extends only as far as they can reasonably determine that both the future threats and the species' response to those threats are probable".

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While the law is opposed by many in the logging, mining, farming and oil-drilling industries, environmentalists say they consider it sacrosanct and say changes planned by the Trump administration will likely bring lawsuits. "If they define it narrowly, then they'll close their eyes to the fact that 30 years down the road, polar bears will be endangered due to sea-level rise", he said.

The monarch butterfly is one of several species now being considered for protections under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Changing that rule could roll back protections. "We are proposing these improvements to produce the best conservation results for the species while reducing the regulatory burden on the American people".

WorldWildLife.org has created a list of animal species, organized by conservation status.

The public will have 60 days to offer comments to the proposed changes before a final plan is issued. Critics said they would doom hundreds of imperiled animals and plants and undermine the Endangered Species Act of 1973, one of the most popular - and heavily litigated - environmental laws ever enacted.

The Endangered Species Act, which protects more than 1,250 species, is based on three key elements: listing species as threatened or endangered; designating habitat essential for the species' survival; and recovering populations so they can be removed from the list.

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