Trump Administration Proposal Would Gut Endangered Species Protection

Trump aims to end automatic protections for some endangered species

"These rules will be very protective", said David Bernhardt, the Interior Department's deputy director, adding that the changes would reduce the "conflict and uncertainty" associated with protected species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced the finalized draft of a proposal to alter the legal language guarding nature reserves and providing threatened species the same level of protection as their endangered counterparts.

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, is chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus, whose members unveiled a package of bills last week that they said are needed to modernize the Endangered Species Act.

Under one proposal, the FWS would decide on a species-by-species basis what, if any, ESA prohibitions would apply to each species listed as threatened. Instead, protections for future threatened species will be determined by "the species' individual conservation needs".

But the FWS long ago adopted a blanket rule that the statutory prohibitions would automatically apply to all threatened species, unless the FWS adopted a "special rule" specific to a particular species that spelled out what restrictions applied. Endangered species are now defined as "in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range", while threatened species are likely to become in danger of extinction within the "foreseeable future".

"The Trump administration's proposals to change the Endangered Species Act come at the same time as the President's allies in Congress are proposing bills that would also undermine the law". The new proposal would define "foreseeable future" to make it clear that the time period extends only as far as the government can reasonably determine that future threats are probable.

"We propose to remove the phrase, "without reference to possible economic or other impacts of such determination" the proposal states.

"Although some conservationists might characterize the entire rulemaking as simply another Trump administration effort to undercut conservation, we think that a closer look will reveal both advantages and concerns from a conservation perspective", said Li.

The government will continue to make determinations based exclusively on biological considerations, but "there may be circumstances where referencing economic, or other impacts may be informative to the public", according to the proposal summary.

Another key change would shrink areas designated as critical habitats, according to E&E News. This approach will free-up limited resources for more targeted and efficient recovery of threatened and endangered species.

In some rare cases, there may be no designation of a critical habitat under a widened list of circumstances when such a designation would not be prudent.

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