The Endangered Species Act (ESA), signed by President Richard Nixon in 1973, protected endangered species for the last 46 years. The Act also helps conservation partnerships nationwide to protect America’s animals. However, with the newest changes to the ESA, all bets are off for endangered species, as they become more at risk than ever before.
What will these changes do?
These changes will focus on how officials decide whether a species is endangered or threatened, what kind of protections threatened species should receive, and how officials will decide which areas of habitat to protect.
When implemented, these changes may weaken the Endangered Species Act’s protections. For example, the changes could make it easier to remove species from the endangered and threatened species lists. The wording of the act may also allow the dismissal of climate change as an irrelevant threat to species’ survival.
Species already listed as threatened or endangered won’t have their protections changed, but for new additions, the FWS rule case-by-case. These revisions simply reduce protections for any species that get added to the threatened species list in the future.
How are these changes different than past revisions?
These changes are far from surprising. The Trump administration proposed some of the revisions, specifically removing the phrase “without reference to economic impact” last July. Overall, these changes make it easier for officials to consider economic factors over environmental ones.
Also, species categorized as “threatened”, a category placed one away from “endangered”, will no longer receive the same protections as species in the “endangered” category. Instead, the Trump administration will carry out protections on a case-by-case basis.
What are the differing perspectives on the changes?
U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt claims that “the best way to uphold the Endangered Species Act is to do everything we can to ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal –recovery of our rarest species. The Act’s effectiveness rests on clear, consistent and efficient implementation.” He continued that “an effectively administered Act ensures more resources can go where they will do the most good: on-the-ground conservation.”
Leah Gerber, professor of conservation science and founding director of the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes at Arizona State University, disagrees. “The new rules completely undermine the strength of the ESA,” Gerber told TIME. “The point of the act is to prevent extinction, this is going to do the opposite. It’s going to undermine efforts to recover species.”
It seems that these revisions are simply to fit President Trump’s economic goals. Although rollbacks to the ESA have been implemented since the Act’s founding, these changes could jeopardize species that are already at-risk.
Thomas Lovejoy, a Senior Fellow of Biodiversity and Environmental Science at the United Nations Foundation, thinks this is a way for the administration to ignore the effects of climate change on species survival.
“I consider that absurd since it’s an administration that doesn’t believe in climate change,” Lovejoy told TIME. “The impact of climate change and the fingerprints of climate change can be seen in nature wherever you look. It’s really egregious to ignore it.”