Quantcast

Trump Admin Guts Endangered Species Act in the Midst of Climate Crisis and Biodiversity Loss

Politics
A bald eagle spreads its wings in Homer, Alaska. Keren Su / Stone / Getty Images Plus

The Trump administration announced sweeping changes to the Endangered Species Act Monday in a move that could make it harder to protect plants and animals from the climate crisis, The New York Times reported.


The changes would make it easier to remove species from the list, end the blanket rule giving threatened species the same protections as endangered ones, allow regulators to assess the economic impacts of protecting a species and give the government major leeway in how it interprets the phrase "foreseeable future." This last change is relevant to species threatened by the climate crisis, since many of its effects may be decades away.

Interior Secretary and former energy lobbyist David Bernhardt claimed the changes would increase transparency.

"The act's effectiveness rests on clear, consistent and efficient implementation," he said in a statement reported by The New York Times.

But conservation groups disagreed. They pointed to a major biodiversity study released this spring warning that one million species could go extinct due to human activity.

"We're facing an extinction crisis, and the administration is placing industry needs above the needs of our natural heritage," Natural Resources Defense Council Nature Program legal director Rebecca Riley said in a statement.

The Endangered Species Act has saved 99 percent of listed species from extinction, according to HuffPost. Notable successes include the bald eagle, Yellowstone grizzly bear and humpback whale, but scientists warn that the new rules could prevent the act from performing similar rescues in the future. Take the North American wolverine, which the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is deciding whether or not to protect. The cold-loving mammal could lose a third of its U.S. range by 2050 and two thirds before 2100 due to rising temperatures, The Guardian reported.

"The current science suggests that a warming climate is most likely going to have an adverse impact on the wolverine," Jeff Copeland, a retired Forest Service biologist who now works with the Wolverine Foundation, told The Guardian. "That's the debate that needed to happen."

But, because of the Trump administration's changes to the interpretation of "foreseeable future," it likely won't.

Environmental groups are also concerned by the removal of language saying protection decisions must be made "without reference to possible economic or other impacts of determination."

FWS assistant director for endangered species Gary Frazer told The New York Times that the language was only being removed to allow economic impact assessments to be conducted for informational reasons. He said they would not inform protection decisions.

But conservation groups mistrusted the language change. The only reason for writing economic impact reports, Obama-era Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes told HuffPost, is to "poison the well and obtain a sort of public reaction to the listing."

Drew Caputo, vice president of litigation for lands, wildlife and oceans at Earthjustice, agreed the language removal was dangerous.

"There can be economic costs to protecting endangered species," Caputo told The New York Times. "If we make decisions based on short-term economic costs, we're going to have a whole lot more extinct species."

Earthjustice has already promised to sue over the changes, according to HuffPost, as have Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

"I know that gutting the Endangered Species Act sounds like a plan from a cartoon villain, not the work of the president of the United States," Healey said during a press call reported by HuffPost. "But unfortunately that's what we're dealing with today."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The icebreaker Polar Star in Antarctica. Ville Miettinen / The Revelator / CC BY-NC 2.0

By Tara Lohan

Part of Joellen Russell's job is to help illuminate the deep darkness — to shine a light on what's happening beneath the surface of the ocean. And it's one of the most important jobs in the world right now.

Read More
Psychedelic mushrooms are currently classified as a Schedule I drug by the FDA, and possession is a felony nationwide. juriskraulis / iStock / Getty Images

A single experience with "magic mushrooms" has long-lasting effects on cancer patients, according to a new study that found patients still felt positive benefits five years later, as CNN reported.

Read More
Sponsored
Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign town hall meeting at Vista Grande Jan. 28 in Clinton, Iowa. The Iowa caucuses are February 3. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Joe Biden put his hand on the chest of an Iowa voter and told the man to vote for someone else when the voter asked the former vice president about his plans to replace gas pipelines, The Independent reported.

Read More
Greening the barren mountain has helped recharge groundwater levels in the villages. Photo by Gurvinder Singh. Mongabay India

By Gurvinder Singh

Jamini Mohan Mahanty is out for a morning walk every day. At 91, he is hale and hearty. A resident of Jharbagda village in Purulia district, West Bengal, Mahanty thanks the "green mountain" in his village for having added some extra years to his life.

Read More
A wild Woodland Bison walks in the Arctic wilderness. RyersonClark / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Paul Brown

Releasing herds of large animals onto the tundra − rewilding the Arctic − to create vast grasslands could slow down global heating by storing carbon and preserving the permafrost, UK scientists say.

Read More