The Trump administration today finalized changes to provisions of the U.S. Endangered Species Act that will rollback the decades-old wildlife protection law but which conservation groups say will threaten at-risk species.
The 1970s-era Act is credited with bringing back from the brink of extinction species such as bald eagles, gray whales and grizzly bears.
It has long been a source of frustration for Big Oil and other industries because new listings can put vast swaths of land off limits to development.
The weakening of the Acts protections is one of many moves by Trump to roll back existing regulations to hasten oil, gas and coal production, as well as grazing and logging on federal land.
During his presidency, Teddy Roosevelt, like Trump a Republican, had an opposite vision of America’s future.
He is often considered the “conservationist president.”
Known for his love of nature and wildlife, T.R. established Pelican Island as the first national refuge in 1903, and set the nation on the path to building the largest national Refuge System in the world.
Roosevelt used his authority to protect wildlife and public lands by creating the United States Forest Service (USFS) and establishing 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, 4 national game preserves, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments by enabling the 1906 American Antiquities Act.
During his presidency, Roosevelt protected approximately 230 million acres of public land.
Trump’s changes would end a practice that automatically conveys the same protections for threatened species as for endangered species, and would strike language that guides officials to ignore economic impacts of how animals should be safeguarded.
The original Act protected species regardless of the economics of the area protected.
‘The revisions finalized with this rulemaking fit squarely within the President´s mandate of easing the regulatory burden on the American public, without sacrificing our species´ protection and recovery goals,’ U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a statement.
Conservationists and environmentalists said they would challenge the revised law in court.
‘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.
‘For animals like wolverines and monarch butterflies, this could be the beginning of the end,’ Greenwald said.
He said the group would go to court to block the rewritten regulations, ‘which only serves the oil industry and other polluters who see endangered species as pesky inconveniences.’
The new rules will also prohibit designation of critical habitat for species threatened by climate change, the Center for Biological Diversity said. Trump rejects mainstream climate science.
Conservation groups and attorneys general of several states including California and Massachusetts had been critical of the changes first proposed last year, saying the were in violation of the purpose of the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.