Trump Administration Aims Wrecking Ball at Endangered Species Act

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

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

The proposed changes include potential limits on the designation of "critical habitat" for imperiled plants and animals; an end to a regulatory provision that gives threatened plants and animals the same protections as species at greater risk of extinction; and streamlining inter-agency consultations when federal government actions could jeopardize a species.

"These proposals would slam a wrecking ball into the most crucial protections for our most endangered wildlife", Brett Hartl of the Center for Biological Diversity, an activist group focused on endangered species, said Thursday.

One set of regulatory changes would weaken the consultation process created to prevent harm to endangered animals and their habitats from federal agency activities.

As it stands, the term "endangered" applies to an animal or plant in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future.

The proposal specifically targets the Endangered Species Act, which was established in 1973. But the definition of "foreseeable future" has been vague.

Wildlife advocates and Democrats said such moves would speed extinctions in the name of furthering the administration's anti-environment agenda.

"The very agencies that are charged with saving species are proposing to weaken the bedrock protections of the Endangered Species Act", she said.

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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The public will have 60 days to offer comments to the proposed changes before a final plan is issued. The Endangered Species Act (ESA), many have argued, is outdated, costly and allows for too many lawsuits from environmental organizations.

A concern among environmentalists is that the Interior's heightened interest in local control could reduce the influence of scientists in decision-making.

Despite this, legislative attacks on the federal law to protect endangered species have been mounting in recent years, lead author Jeremy Bruskotter of Ohio State University said in a statement Wednesday.

The species of bird, called the sage grouse, has always been a point of contention between landowners and conservationists who have pushed for it to be listed on the Endangered Species Act.

Republican lawmakers are pushing legislation to enact broad changes to the Endangered Species Act, saying it hinders economic activities while doing little to restore species.

"The Trump Administration is dedicated to being a good neighbor and being a better partner with the communities in which we operate", said US Fish and Wildlife Service principal deputy director Greg Sheehan.

"The conflicts the Trump administration is trying to avoid with these changes", she said, "will instead lead to more controversy, more costly legal battles and the loss of valuable time running out fast to save species on the brink".

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