The Interior and Commerce Departments recently proposed fundamental changes to the landmark Endangered Species Act regulations. This is the biggest threat to these rules and the at-risk marine life that depend on the Endangered Species Act in decades. If implemented as proposed, this regulatory overhaul will put Southern sea otters, loggerhead sea turtles, Florida manatees, and other at-risk species in even greater peril.
That’s why we need 30,000 Wavemakers to flood the Federal Register with comments on the proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act regulations to show that we won’t stand back and sacrifice endangered species to benefit of special interests.
Tell President Trump: Don’t weaken the protections for threatened and endangered species.
Dear Secretary Zinke and Secretary Ross,
The Endangered Species Act is a landmark piece of legislation that was passed by Congress with significant bipartisan support and signed by President Nixon in 1973. Widespread consensus regarding the incredible importance of protecting vulnerable species continues to this day. As of 2018, the vast majority of Americans support the Endangered Species Act. Since passage of the law, over a thousand plant and animal species have been protected. Now is not the time to remove these vital protections for threatened and endangered species by weakening the regulations. Without these important protections, incredible endangered species such as the North Atlantic Right Whale and certain salmon species could be more rapidly driven towards extinction. Furthermore, threatened species, such as the Southern Sea Otter, which is currently recovering under protection of the Endangered Species Act, would lose important safeguards, potentially leading to their decline.
Some of the proposed regulatory changes would fundamentally change the spirit of the Endangered Species Act regulations by reducing protections for the species that most need help to recover. For example, an essential component of the law is that there may be no economic considerations in the listing process; however, the proposed changes to the regulations allow economic considerations to be included when deciding whether to list a species as either “threatened” or “endangered.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to eliminate the rule automatically extending certain Endangered Species Act protections to threatened species. Rather than rescind this longstanding rule, which would weaken prohibitions on killing, harassing or harming threatened species, the Fish and Wildlife Service should maintain the rule. Furthermore, the National Marine Fisheries Service should adopt the rule. Coordination along these lines will protect threatened species and prevent them from becoming endangered.
The proposed changes make it more difficult to protect species impacted by climate change. By carving out climate change threats to critical habitat and narrowing the definition of the “foreseeable future,” the Services are able to ignore climate change impacts on species, including warming temperatures sea level rise, melting glaciers and reduced snowpack.
In addition to critical habitat, unoccupied habitat can be essential to the conservation of species. The proposed changes also make it harder to designate unoccupied critical habitat for protected species, which often need room to roam and adapt to changes.
To determine whether a species is in “jeopardy” under the Endangered Species Act, a crucial starting point is to determine the level of peril a species already faces prior to any proposed agency action that may cause even greater harm to a species. Under the proposed changes, however, “there is no ‘baseline jeopardy’ status even for the most imperiled species,” a position which runs counter to federal court rulings. Federal courts have also required consideration of the “tipping point” beyond which a species could not recover. Neither of these important analyses would be required under the proposed changes to the regulations, thereby obscuring the effects of an agency’s action upon the overall recovery potential of the species.
The proposed regulatory changes make it easier for the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service to delist a species, thereby eliminating protections for recovering species. The Services will be able to delist a species without demonstrating that the recovery plan criteria were met. So, a vulnerable species could be delisted even if it has not fully recovered.
Finally, the proposed changes to the rules would weaken the consultation process, a key aspect of the way the Endangered Species Act is implemented, requiring federal agencies to consult with the experts in the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service. The range of agency actions that must undergo consultation is unduly narrowed, and deadlines are proposed that would pressure the Services to make hasty decisions regarding the protection of species.
I stand in strong opposition to these proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act regulations. Please do not weaken protections for threatened and endangered species.