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Trump administration takes aim at the endangered species act

A new proposal by the Trump administration aims to roll back some of the regulations enforced by the Endangered Species Act. Conservationists argue that the move will eliminate key services designed to protect animal and plant species that are threatened with extinction.

Federal agencies collaborated in drafting the new rules, as President Trump continues to push for the streamlining of regulatory processes.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and NOAA Fisheries announced the plans on Thursday, suggesting that the bill would help to better align the two agencies.

USFWS Principal Deputy Director Greg Sheehan said in a statement: “ESA implementation was not consistent and oftentimes very confusing to navigate.”

“These rules will be very protective and enhance the conservation of the species,” said Interior Department Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt. “At the same time we hope that they ameliorate some of the unnecessary burden, conflict and uncertainty that is within our current regulatory structure.”

If the bill is passed, threatened species will no longer receive the same protections as endangered species and will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. The administration also wants language removed from the ESA that suggests wildlife conservation is a priority over economic impacts.

As additional species are listed as threatened or endangered, industries such as drilling and mining suffer because development becomes restricted across new regions. Conservation groups believe that the proposal is in favor of large corporations.

The bill also aims to limit the evaluation of species’ habitats to those that are occupied. There are some situations, however, where unoccupied habitats are just as critical to the recovery of a threatened species.

Jake Li is the director for biodiversity at the Environmental Policy Innovation Center.

“Although some conservationists might characterize the entire rulemaking as simply another Trump administration effort to undercut conservation, we think that a closer look will reveal both advantages and concerns from a conservation perspective,” said Li.

Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, does not agree.

“These proposals would slam a wrecking ball into the most crucial protections for our most endangered wildlife,” said Hartl. “If these regulations had been in place in the 1970s, the bald eagle and the gray whale would be extinct today.”

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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