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Proposed DOI Rule Change Would Gut Protections for Future Threatened Species

Animals
The gopher tortoise is one of the animals awaiting protection that could be impacted by a proposed DOI rule change. Jay Williams

On April 5, EcoWatch reported on a rule change proposed by the Department of Interior (DOI) that the Center for Biological Diversity warned could remove protections for more than 300 threatened species.


Later that day, CNN obtained an internal document of the draft from Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) and reported Friday that the proposed rule change would not impact currently threatened species, but could still have major consequences for any species listed as threatened in the future.

At stake is the so-called "blanket rule"—a 1978 regulation under the Endangered Species Act granting threatened species the same protections as endangered species unless the FWS decides on special regulations. Those protections prevent against "take," human-caused death or harm due to hunting, trapping or habitat destruction.

The proposal would do away with the blanket rule for all future species listed as threatened, instead deciding protection for each on a case by case basis.

"Species listed as a threatened species after the effective date of this rule, if finalized, would have protective regulations only if the [Fish and Wildlife] Service promulgates a species-specific rule," CNN reported that the proposal said.

But while all 300 species currently protected by the rule are safe, that doesn't mean it won't endanger animals that are already vulnerable.

The gopher tortoise, the Sierra Nevada red fox and the North American wolverine are among the animals currently proposed for threatened status who have not received it yet, Mother Jones reported Wednesday.

The endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, Noah Greenwald, explained to Mother Jones why the new rule change would be so harmful for species like these.

"If you're a threatened species and you don't have 'take' protections, you don't really have any protections at all," Greenwald said.

He feared the rule change was just another attempt on the part of the Trump administration to placate developers and corporations at the expense of the environment.

"It's going to turn every listing into a negotiation with industry," he told Mother Jones.

Trump's appointee to head the DOI Ryan Zinke has a record that justifies Greenwald's suspicions. As a Representative to Congress from Montana, he voted for exemptions from Endangered Species Act rules for water developers and agribusiness.

"Once again, [Zinke] is trying to pull a fast one," Florida Sen. Bill Nelson told CNN. "Now he's trying to weaken rules that protect animals and plants."

Deciding protections on a case-by-case basis would also worsen an already deadly bureaucracy that predates Trump. Currently, there is a backlog of more than 500 species proposed for protection, and the FWS takes an average of 12 years to protect each species.

"We know of at least 47 species so far that have gone extinct waiting for protection," Greenwald told Mother Jones.

In statements to both CNN and Mother Jones, FWS spokesperson Gavin Shire emphasized that the rule was still under review and could change.

"It is premature to discuss a rule that has not been completed and is subject to change while under interagency review," he told CNN.

If it does go through as currently written, Greenwald told Mother Jones that the Center for Biological Diversity will likely fight it in court.

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