Wildlife & Biodiversity

Trump Administration dilutes Endangered Species Act

Critics say the move will hasten the extinction of those species in the country which are endangered

By DTE Staff
Published: Tuesday 13 August 2019
The California Condor, a relative of the Andean, was saved by the Endangered Species Act, 1973, say US conservationists. Photo: Getty Images

The Donald Trump Administration on August 12, 2019, made changes to the provisions of the US Endangered Species Act, one of America’s oldest and most effective environmental laws.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service finalised the changes.

The Act was signed into law by former President, Richard Nixon in 1973. According to Time Magazine, it is credited with saving many iconic species like the bald eagle, the very symbol of America, the rare California condor and many others.

Foremost among the changes is that the federal government will now take economic cost into account before protecting a struggling species.

Among other changes, blanket protections for threatened animals and plants have been removed.

This means that any species deemed ‘Threatened’ now, will not automatically receive the same protections as those that have been deemed ‘Endangered’. Rather, the merits of giving protections will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

This, say conservation groups, could block officials from considering the impact on wildlife from climate change, which is a major and growing threat to many species.

The US government says the changes ‘will ease the burden of regulations and increase transparency into decisions on whether a species warrants protections’.

The changes have been strongly criticised by Democrat lawmakers and conservationists have said they would challenge the move in court.

“This effort to gut protections for endangered and threatened species has the same two features of most Trump administration actions: It’s a gift to industry, and it’s illegal. We’ll see the Trump administration in court about it,” Drew Caputo, a vice president of litigation for the conservation advocacy group Earthjustice, was quoted as saying by Time Magazine.

In May this year, A United Nations report had warned that more than 1 million plants and animals the world over faced extinction due to anthropogenic reasons.

“The most comprehensive assessment of biodiversity ever completed was released earlier this year and shows that more than one million species are at risk of extinction. These species are inextricably linked to our own well-being, livelihoods, economies, food security, and overall survival,” Azzedine Downes, president and CEO of International Fund for Animal Welfare or IFAW told Down To Earth (DTE) via email.

“Gutting key protections of the Endangered Species Act is precisely the wrong action for the US to be taking at this critical point in time. We must protect and conserve vulnerable species so that we may all thrive together,” he added.

“These new regulations would make it harder for declining species to get the protection they need and undermine protection for species that are already listed,” Randy Serraglio, Southwest Conservation Advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, Tucson, Arizona, told DTE

“The Trump administration has demonstrated a strong pattern of evading and attacking environmental laws while giving handouts to industry, and this certainly fits that pattern. Forcing economics into the equation creates the opportunity to elevate politics over science in making decisions on endangered species, which is exactly contrary to the law,” Serraglio, who works on a variety of conservation issues in Arizona and the US Southwest, said.

“Gutting the Endangered Species Act in the face of the global mass extinction crisis that we’re facing will condemn hundreds of plants and animals to extinction. If anything, the law should be strengthened,” he added.

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