Environmentalists warn Trump 'weakening' endangered species protections

A bald eagle is seen along the American Trail at the Smithsonian National Zoo Aug. 11 2016 in Washington D.C

"These changes crash a bulldozer through the Endangered Species Act's lifesaving protections for America's most vulnerable wildlife", Noah Greenwald, the Center for Biological Diversity's endangered species director, said in a statement.

The Trump administration is finalizing major changes to the Endangered Species Act in a bid to reduce the system's regulatory impact, though critics say the shift could accelerate the extinction of struggling creatures. In that vein, language in the act that required officials to rely heavily on science when considering to list a species as threatened or endangered regardless of economic impact was removed.

The rules were changed as part of President Donald Trump's mandate to scale back government regulations on behalf of businesses.

"We are in the midst of an unprecedented extinction crisis, yet the Trump administration is steamrolling our most effective wildlife protection law", Rebecca Riley, legal director of the nature program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

The Endangered Species Act bans harassing, hurting or capturing species deemed endangered, and it requires agencies to enact rules created to protect their ecosystems.

"The Trump administration's decision to finalize these unsafe rollbacks comes at a time when threatened and endangered species are facing increasing pressure from global forces like climate change, drought, desertification, deforestation, ocean acidification and the rapid destruction of critical habitats", Hayes said.

The move should not come as a surprise, since Interior Secretary David Bernhardt wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that the Endangered Species Act (which is credited with saving bald eagles, grizzly bears, wolves, California condors, and peregrine falcons) is nothing more than an "unnecessary regulatory burden" on companies.

The Endangered Species Act has been a contentious issue in places like Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, with Republican politicians complaining in the past that the act failed to take into account the needs of landowners, hunters and ranchers whose lands are the habit of numerous endangered species.

Critics argue it will drive more species to extinction.

Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican who leads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said Monday's changes in enforcement to the act were "a good start", but said he would continue working to change the act itself.

Kristen Boyles, an attorney for Earthjustice, told AFP: "Prior to today, a newly-listed threatened species would immediately have protections in place, there was sort of a default rule".

Conservation groups and attorneys general of several states including California and MA had been critical of the changes first proposed previous year, saying the were in violation of the goal of the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

A United Nations report warned in May that more than 1 million plants and animals globally face extinction, some within decades, owing to human influence, climate change and other threats. The report called the rate of species loss a record.

"There were some tears shed", Entz said, of the moment when tribal officials realized the animal had dwindled in the wild past the point of saving.

Despite the disappearance of the protected caribou species from the contiguous United States, Entz said, "We don't want to see a weakening of the law".

"There's times where hope is something you don't even want to talk about", he said.



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