Trump Administration Makes Major Changes to Protections for Endangered Species

The Trump administration is making major changes to how the Endangered Species Act is implemented. The U.S. Department of Interior recently announced the implementation of long-anticipated revisions to the nation’s wildlife conservation law.

Republican lawmakers and industry groups celebrated the revisions, some of the broadest changes in the way the act is applied in its nearly 50-year history. “These revisions are a step in the right direction to restore the law to its intended purpose: advancing species recovery and ultimately removing species from threatened or endangered status, a goal that deserves undisputed support,” said Hal Quinn, president and CEO of the National Mining Association (NMA).

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt says the revisions will help conservation efforts and increase transparency around the law.

One of the changes will allow an economic analysis to be done while determining whether a species warrants protection, though that analysis will not be a part of the listing decision. Another will weaken the initial protections given to species deemed to be threatened, one step shy of being endangered. The changes will apply only to future listing decisions.

Many of the changes the Trump administration is rolling out address shared administrative concerns about the act. One of those changes is limiting which habitat — and how much of it — gets considered in determining whether a species is endangered. The land a species currently occupies would be the priority. But wildlife advocates say that could make it harder to account for threats from the warming climate, which has shrunk habitat for some species and will force others to migrate to new areas.

The Endangered Species Act has maintained broad bipartisan support since its inception in 1973, but it has been sharply criticized by some who see it as being overly restrictive to business. Ranchers, developers and fossil fuel companies have urged Republican lawmakers to change the act for decades. The regulatory overhaul announced by federal officials addresses some of their concerns, but some say it doesn’t go far enough.

As expected numerous environmental groups and state attorneys general have voiced strong opposition to the rule changes, vowing to sue the administration over the changes. Opponents of the rule change allege they are illegal because they’re not grounded in scientific evidence.

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