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The Endangered Species Act Just Lost Some of Its Bite

The Trump administration makes some major changes
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 12, 2019 1:26 PM CDT
In this Feb. 1, 2016 file photo, a bald eagle takes flight at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester, Va.   (Scott Mason/The Winchester Star via AP, File)
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(Newser) – In environmentalists' view, it's been one of America's strongest environmental laws since it was passed in 1973. Now, the Endangered Species Act—which currently has 1,600 species under its purview—has lost some of its bite. The Trump administration on Monday rolled out some of the most wide-ranging changes to the law in decades, reports the AP. What the overhaul does:

  • Alters what "threatened" means: Species that fall into the "threatened" category won't automatically be subject to some of the same protections as "endangered" species. Gizmodo explains that the extension of those protections comes as part of the 4(d) rule of the act; it's being done away with, which Gizmodo writes will increase the likelihood of a threatened species progressing to the endangered category.
  • Considers the economic cost: The economic cost of listing a species as threatened or endangered (for instance, how it could impact logging in the area) can now be made public. One critic's take, per the Hill: "The industry will feed all kinds of sky-is-falling economic projections to the Fish and Wildlife Service and that information would be released at the same time a listing is proposed. The reason for it is obviously to influence the decision."
  • Curtails the future view: The Hill reports the changes will alter how far out into the future the the Fish and Wildlife Service will look when assessing a species' risk. A rep for the FWS says the goal is to "reliably predict and not speculate." Critics see the narrowing as taking the impacts of climate change out of the equation.

The Act has saved the bald eagle, but it has also launched protracted court battles (the AP specifically cites cases involving the northern spotted owl and snail darters). Republicans in Congress have lobbied to do away with it entirely; some critics say it's overly effective and prevents industry from moving into an animal's habitat after it has bounced back. The New York Times quotes this line from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross: The changes "fit squarely within the president’s mandate of easing the regulatory burden on the American public, without sacrificing our species’ protection and recovery goals." A UN report from May that said the rate of species loss is at an apex and warned human encroachment, climate change, and other threats have put more than 1 million plants and animals at risk of extinction, some in just decades. The Guardian looks at the potential impact on several species, including the North American wolverine, here. (Read more Endangered Species Act stories.)

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