In an effort to counteract the threats posed by global climate change to endangered and vulnerable species, U.S. officials have announced a significant amendment to federal regulations.
Scientists will now be permitted to relocate endangered species outside their historical habitats. These relocations are done with the hope of protecting them from extinction.
Published by the Biden administration, the new legislation facilitates the potential relocation of some of the nation’s most at-risk species. All of these species are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The regulation does not solely apply to plants and animals impacted by climate change. It also covers wildlife endangered by invasive species.
Until now, this measure was considered a desperate last resort, according to the Associated Press. The AP report notes that in Hawaii, efforts are underway to transport threatened seabirds to new islands to safeguard them from the threat of sea level rise.
This summer, officials plan to reintroduce Guam kingfishers to the Palmyra Atoll, located south of Hawaii. These birds are now extinct in the wild after brown tree snakes, which were unintentionally brought to Guam in the 1950, ravaged their population.
The idea of introducing species to new territories was previously met with resistance. This was largely due to fears of disrupting local ecosystems and overpopulating the local flora and fauna.
However, the looming threat of climate change, which is gradually transforming habitats worldwide, has prompted more widespread acceptance of the practice among scientists and government officials.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland pointed out in her statement that the full impact of climate change hadn’t been recognized when the previous rules against endangered species relocations were instated.
Now, however, “global warming intensifies, habitat changes are forcing some wildlife to new areas to survive, while squeezing other species closer to extinction,” she explained.
Haaland further stated that this facilitation of relocations would strengthen conservation efforts and help ensure the protection of species for future generations.
Despite this, not everyone is on board with this approach. Republicans in Western states, who still harbor resentment over the contentious reintroduction of gray wolves two decades prior, were among the most vocal opponents.
State officials from Montana, New Mexico, and Arizona expressed apprehension. They warned of the potential for ecological upheaval as “invasive species” are deliberately brought into new habitats.
Montana Governor Greg Gianforte’s spokesperson, Jack O’Brien, relayed state officials’ intent to scrutinize the changes but voiced disappointment at the federal officials’ decision to announce them just before a holiday weekend.
In the past, introducing species to new areas has occasionally resulted in catastrophic consequences. One example of this is the spread of Asian carp throughout U.S. rivers and streams.
Nevertheless, various state wildlife officials and independent scientists endorsed the change. They suggest that certain species, such as the Key deer of southern Florida, desert flowers in Nevada and California, and the St. Croix ground lizard in the Virgin Islands, could benefit from this approach.
However, Patrick Donnelly from the Center for Biological Diversity expressed concern that the new rule might be misused to make room for developmental projects at the cost of destroying natural habitats.
His group has been actively fighting against plans for a Nevada lithium mine that could threaten an endangered desert wildflower, the Tiehm’s buckwheat.
“The Tiehm’s buckwheat situation has raised the specter of a mining company intentionally destroying an endangered species’ habitat and then attempting to create new habitat elsewhere as compensation,” said Donnelly. “It’s troubling that this new rule doesn’t contain an explicit prohibition on such an arrangement.”
The recent introduction of this relocation rule forms part of a series of steps taken by the Biden administration to roll back major modifications made to the endangered species program during the Trump administration.
These prior modifications were primarily advocated for by industry groups but were met with substantial backlash from environmentalists.
Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared its intention to revive an old regulation that offers blanket protections for species newly identified as threatened.
This decision signals a significant shift in policy, as officials have also confirmed that economic impacts will no longer be a factor in deciding the need for protection of various plant and animal species.
The restoration of this regulation and the new species relocation rule show the Biden administration’s commitment to prioritizing ecological conservation, even as it struggles with the complex and far-reaching effects of climate change.
The U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) was established in 1973. It is a crucial piece of federal legislation aimed at protecting species at risk of extinction.
The ESA classifies species as either “endangered” or “threatened.”
“Endangered” means a species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. “Threatened” indicates a species is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) implement the Act. The FWS manages terrestrial and freshwater species, while the NMFS handles marine wildlife and anadromous fish.
Under the Act, these agencies must maintain a list of endangered and threatened species. The selection process is strictly biological, setting aside economic, political, or social considerations.
The ESA also mandates the creation of recovery plans for listed species. These plans detail steps to help the species recover and delist them. They often involve habitat restoration, population surveys, and public education efforts.
The Act prohibits “taking” listed species, where “taking” involves actions like hunting, harassing, or significantly modifying the species’ habitat.
Moreover, the ESA controls international trade in endangered and threatened species. Importing, exporting, or commercial activity involving listed species is generally prohibited.
The Act also empowers the government to purchase land for conservation. It promotes cooperative agreements with states and provides grants for state and local conservation efforts.
Lastly, the Act allows for citizen involvement. Any person or organization can petition to have a species listed, delisted, or reclassified.
The Endangered Species Act has faced much opposition and and many challenges over the years. Despite these obstacles, the ESA has done its job fairly well. It has played a significant role in preventing the extinction of numerous species and protecting critical habitats in the U.S.