Trump Administration Guts Endangered Species Act

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A monarch butterfly collects nectar from a flower in the People's Garden in Washington D.C. in 2014

The 1970s-era Act is credited with bringing back from the brink of extinction species such as bald eagles, gray whales and grizzly bears, but the law has always been a source of frustration for drillers, miners and other industries because new listings can put vast swaths of land off limits to development. Today, science will take a backseat as the new rule will sideline scientific evidence and emphasize considerations of economic costs in decisions to list species and/or the habitat they depend on under ESA. It will also require the same standards be used when officials consider delisting or reclassifying species.

"The Trump administration's latest attempt to sink Endangered Species Act protections for endangered whales, sea turtles and dolphins will be resisted by the American people", said Turtle Island Restoration Network Executive Director Todd Steiner.

The new rule redefines "foreseeable future" in a way that will prevent federal experts from considering the future effects of climate change on species populations. Opponents said Monday that the move makes it more challenging to add species to the endangered lists and includes fewer protections once plants and animals are on a designated list.

The Endangered Species Act has been a contentious issue in places like Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, with Republican politicians complaining in the past that the act failed to take into account the needs of landowners, hunters and ranchers whose lands are the habit of numerous endangered species.

Industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute and the Oregon-based American Forest Resources Council have supported changes to the Endangered Species Act.

Mike Scott, University of Idaho Fish and Wildlife Sciences distinguished professor emeritus, said the economic factor with the Endangered Species Act was first tested when the snail darter delayed the construction of the Telico Dam in Tennessee.

Republican lawmakers and industry groups celebrated the revisions, some of the broadest changes in the way the act is applied in its almost 50-year history.

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Kim Thorburn, state Fish and Wildlife commissioner, said the decision could have dire consequences, though she noted species listed by the state would continue to be protected. That is why it is so critically important to protect our most threatened and endangered species.

Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water and Wildlife, said the administration is simply trying to make the process more efficient.

Now regulators can designate areas of a species' historical range or suitable but unoccupied areas as critical habitat.

Pushing back against the criticism, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and other administration officials contend the changes improve efficiency of oversight while continuing to protect rare species.

The groups says that lifting the regulations will help "encourage states and landowners to recover [threatened species] before they reach endangered status".

The action, which expands the administration's rewrite of USA environmental laws, is the latest that targets protections, including for water, air and public lands. Wyoming US Senator John Barrasso calls the changes a good start, but he wants to reform the law. "We've seen before how the Act can be abused by environmental activist agendas, but by increasing transparency and ending the practice of one-size-fits-all reactions, we can end their sue [sic] and settle tactics while promoting responsible conservation without heavy-handed government intervention". "In the four decades since the Endangered Species Act became law, 99% of species protected under the Endangered Species Act have not perished".

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