Trump administration seeks endangered species rule changes

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 More

Going forward, the Department of Interior plans to work with the Commerce Department to jointly determine issues, including whether land now unoccupied by a threatened species deserves to be classified as a critical habitat - meaning one that deserves protection.

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Wildlife advocates and Democrats are anxious the proposed changes would accelerate extinction rates. A second set of changes would curtail the designation of critical habitat and weaken the listing process for imperiled species.

The public will have 60 days to offer comments to the proposed changes before a final plan is issued.

The proposal specifically targets the Endangered Species Act, which was established in 1973.

The proposed changes also include evaluating a species' critical habitat initially only in places where it now lives, rather than including areas where it could be expected to live if its population recovered.

"Together these rules will be very protective and enhance the conservation of the species", Bernhardt said. "Allowing a few individuals of species to exist on a small piece of land or a zoo is not what Congress intended in passing the (Endangered Species Act), nor is it what the American public wants". "These regulations are the heart of how the Endangered Species Act is implemented". It has prevented 99 percent of species under its care from going extinct including the bald eagle, grizzly bear, and Florida manatee.

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

Critical habitat protections for the threatened California gnatcatcher, for example, have barred development across almost 100,000 acres of largely coastal land in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Ventura, Riverside and San Bernardino counties since 1993.

Under the proposal relating to federal consultations, impacts to critical habitat will be ignored unless they impact the entirety of an animal's habitat - ignoring the fact that "death by a thousand cuts" is the most common way wildlife declines toward extinction.

The revisions have wide-reaching implications, including for how the federal government would protect species from climate change.

From the National Association of Farm Broadcasting News Service.

Environmental and animal advocates have been waiting for this proposal since the day Trump was inaugurated. Even though most endangered species now occupy small fractions of their historic range, those areas would effectively be precluded from ever helping a species recover.

Greg Sheehan, principal deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, would not argue with any of that.

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