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Congress Fights Over the Future of the Endangered Species Act

Last month, the Trump administration unveiled its final changes to the rules that implement the Endangered Species Act (ESA) — a series of disastrous regulatory changes best characterized as an “Extinction Plan”. The rule rollbacks represent a fundamental attack on this cornerstone of conservation law, making it harder to protect wildlife from multiple threats, including habitat loss and those posed by climate change. 

The new package of regulatory changes consists of three separate rules, each addressing a different aspect of ESA implementation:

  1. regulations for protection of threatened species;
  2. criteria for listing and delisting of species and designation of critical habitat;
  3. process and timing for internal consultations with other federal agencies.

The first rule would eliminate protections afforded to future threatened species under Section 4(d) of the Act. Currently, threatened species automatically receive the same protections as an endangered species under the “blanket 4(d) rule”. This level of protection prevents “take”, meaning it is unlawful for any person to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect that species. The new rule eliminates the blanket 4(d) rule.

The second rule puts an economic cost on saving a species by allowing for an analysis of listings’ economic impacts. In the past, the ESA stipulated that economic costs not be a factor in deciding whether to protect an animal. Under the new rules, efforts to save a species can occur, but only if the price is right. This rule also restricts the circumstances in which agencies can designate areas not currently occupied by a species as critical habitat for that species.

The third rule greatly limits the consultation process. In the past, when a federal agency is planning an action that might harm a listed species, that agency is required to consult with expert wildlife agencies and scientists to prevent this impact. The new rule eliminates this requirement.

The fight is on.

In their effort to fight this latest step to cripple the nation’s best tool for helping to prevent extinction, members of the House and Senate introduced “Protect America’s Wildlife and Fish in Need of Protection Act of 2019” or the “PAW and FIN Act of 2019” – legislation aimed to repeal all three final rule changes to the ESA.

The Congressional Western Caucus, meanwhile,  at the exact same time a House Natural Resources subcommittee debated the PAW and FIN Act of 2019 on September 24, held a roundtable to introduce their draft legislative package poised to modify several parts of the ESA, as well as codify the Trump administration’s new rules.

Take action.

The ESA is our nation’s most effective law for protecting wildlife in danger of extinction. It has prevented 99 percent of species under its care from going extinct, including the Mexican gray wolf and red wolf.

Beyond being among the most effective environmental laws, the ESA is also popular. Recent research tells us that the vast majority of Americans support Endangered Species Act despite increasing efforts to curtail it.

Given that science has concluded that we have entered an unprecedented period of human-caused Sixth Mass extinction, we need to make every effort to help imperiled species heal and flourish.

While Congressional leaders and lobbyists have spoken for major corporations and special interests, your individual voice as a voting American counts just as much.

Let your Congressional representatives know that you support the ESA and you’re counting on them to protect the world’s “gold standard” for conservation and protection of imperiled species.