In a move that resulted in an uproar from environmental groups and concerned citizens, the Trump administration, on Monday, announced changes to how the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is applied. This final rule marks a sustained effort by this administration to weaken the United States’ premier conservation law, which passed under the Nixon Presidency in 1973. The Trump administration rationalized the move by saying, “[t]he revisions finalized with this rulemaking fit squarely within the President’s mandate of easing the regulatory burden on the American public, without sacrificing our species’ protection and recovery goals,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. However, many states and environmental groups are already pushing back against the revisions and are likely to initiate legal challenges. For example, “Maura Healey, the attorney general of Massachusetts, called the changes ‘reckless’ and said states would ‘do everything we can to oppose these actions,’” wrote Lisa Friedman of the New York Times.
The changes will affect how the ESA is implemented. One change will alter how the government interprets “foreseeable future” when implementing the ESA. This narrowed interpretation can make it more difficult for regulators to protect species that are vulnerable to climate change and other future threats, because the effects of climate change are often not experienced immediately. Also, the changes will make it easier for the Secretaries of the Interior (former coal and oil lobbyist, David Bernhard) and Commerce Departments to remove species from the endangered list.
Similarly, the final rule-change will revoke the longstanding prohibition of considering economic impacts when determining whether to protect a species or not. Previously, agencies tasked with enforcing the ESA could only base their species listing determinations on scientific data. However, now “the Act does not prohibit the Services [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service] from compiling economic information.” This inclusion of economic information could have profound effects and give industries a louder voice in ESA protection determinations. And while this may seem like a sensible measure, its places a short-term cost on the long-term preservation of threatened species.
This Act is one of the most important and effective laws for preserving the United States’ wildlife and biodiversity. “The ESA has prevented more than 99 percent of the species listed from going extinct, serving as the critical safety net for wildlife that Congress intended when it passed the law more than 40 years ago,” according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Among the nearly 1,200 animals listed under the ESA, there are 17 species of Pacific Salmon, 12 species of Pacific Steelhead, 9 species of trout, and Atlantic Salmon. These are species that provide unmeasurable amounts of enjoyment for American fishermen and significant economic contributions to local economies. It is not clear yet whether these changes will have immediate implications for these fish or the hundreds of other listed species, but they are undoubtedly worse off now than one year ago.
These changes to how agencies implement the ESA–and potential effects of the changes–fulfill the Administration’s goals and continue its consistent attacks on our country’s lands, water, and wildlife. Whether its having a former coal and oil lobbyist head the Department of the Interior (responsible for the conservation and management of most federal lands and natural resources) or the Trump administration approving the largest reduction of public lands in US history, Trump’s attacks on the environment are blatant.
To make matters worse, one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction around the world due to human activities. So, the ESA will become that more essential for preserving our wildlife in the years to come. “We’re facing an extinction crisis, and the administration is placing industry needs above the needs of our natural heritage,” says Rebecca Riley, legal director for Natural Resources Defense Council’s Nature Program.
In his 1908 “Conservation as a National Duty” speech President Teddy Roosevelt exclaimed: “but the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils shall have been still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields, and obstructing navigation. These questions do not relate only to the next century or to the next generation. One distinguishing characteristic of really civilized men is foresight; we have to, as a nation, exercise foresight for this nation in the future; and if we do not exercise that foresight, dark will be the future!”
For more on this issue, be sure to check out this article from Outside Online.
Cover photo from the talented Jeremy Koreski, check out our interview with him here.
This article was written by Flylords’ Conservation Editor, Will Poston.