The Trump administration on Thursday proposed ending automatic protections for threatened animals and plants and limiting habitat safeguards meant to shield recovering species from harm.
Administration officials said the new rules would advance conservation by simplifying and improving how the landmark Endangered Species Act is used. "These rules will be very protective," said U.S. Interior Department Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, adding that the changes would reduce the "conflict and uncertainty" associated with many protected species. The proposals drew immediate condemnation from Democrats and some wildlife advocates.
Critics said the moves would speed extinctions in the name of furthering its anti-environment agenda. Species currently under consideration for protections are considered especially at risk, including the North American wolverine and the monarch butterfly, they said. "It essentially turns every listing of a species into a negotiation," said Noah Greenwald with the Center for Biological Diversity. "They could decide that building in a species' habitat or logging in trees where birds nest doesn't constitute harm."
A number of conflicts have arisen in the decades since the 1973 passage of the Endangered Species Act, ranging from disruptions to logging to protect spotted owls in the Pacific Northwest, to attacks on livestock that have accompanied the restoration of gray wolves in the Rocky Mountains and upper Midwest. Some species including gray wolves and grizzly retained protection for years after meeting their original recovery goals, often due to court orders resulting from environmentalists' lawsuits.
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.
The administration's proposals follow longstanding criticism of the Endangered Species Act by business groups and some members of Congress. Republican lawmakers are pushing legislation to enact broad changes to the law, saying it hinders economic activities while doing little to restore species.
With files from the Associated Press
With guest host Libby Denkmann
Robert Gordon, adjunct fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a nonprofit free-market think tank that focuses on regulatory issues
Ileene Anderson, an L.A.-based biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental advocacy nonprofit, her focus includes protecting endangered species
Kevin Kester, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade association and lobbying group for beef producers in the United States; fifth generation California rancher