U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Finalizes Rollback of Key Endangered Species Act Protections

Washington, DC—Today, the Trump administration announced new regulations that will effectively gut the Endangered Species Act (ESA), hampering one of the most important environmental laws ever passed.

The final regulations to gut critical Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections were announced just months after a U.N. report warned of “unprecedented” and “accelerating” global mass extinctions caused by human activity.

The changes “clarify, interpret, and implement portions of the Act,” according to the text of the final regulations. In reality, the new regulations curtail protections afforded to threatened species, allow economic considerations to be weighed when deciding whether to list a species, significantly weaken the process for designating protected habitat, and dismantle the interagency consultation process—effectively silencing the voices of experts best suited to determine how industrial projects impact imperiled species.

The new rules also require regulators to consider land where the species currently lives (rather than evaluate their ideal habitat) before expanding to unoccupied areas. Habitat loss is one of the greatest drivers of extinction, and therefore critical habitat designation is a crucial part of the Act. Many species are threatened or endangered because they’ve been pushed to a small fraction of their original range, protecting more land is key to helping them rebound.

The decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) eliminates many essential conservation tools that have protected endangered and threatened species and their habitats for decades such as rolling back automatic protections for species on the brink of becoming endangered. In the past, when a new species was designated as “threatened,” they were automatically given the same protections as endangered species, including penalties for killing or harming individuals or destroying their critical habitat.

With this dramatic revision of core components of the ESA, the current administration is favoring the extraction industry at the expense of imperiled wildlife, hampering one of the most important environmental laws ever passed.

The changes would likely stop the Interior Department from considering threats that are climate related at a time when increased threats from a warming planet necessitate the strong and full enforcement of the ESA.

The USFWS ignored public outcry against the proposed changes, including more than 800,000 public comments and letters signed by 105 U.S. representatives and 34 U.S. senators. Ten states and the District of Columbia are also on record opposing the weakening of the ESA, as are more than 30 tribal nations.

The ESA works!

The ESA has been extremely effective; more than 99 percent of animals, plants and insects protected by the law have been spared from extinction, and many have made dramatic comebacks because of the law, including the bald eagle, American gray wolf, Florida manatee, and humpback whale.

A 2018 survey found that four out of five people support the ESA, and recognize the ESA’s vital role in conserving beloved wildlife species.