There’s a rule in politics that if something has good intentions and a good name, it must never be touched. Of course, even the best intentions need to be reformed sometimes.
On Monday, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced that it would be reforming the regulations from the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Even though the DOI stated that “species recovery [is] the ultimate goal,” media outlets rushed to condemn the Trump administration for allegedly dooming millions of animals.
“U.S. Significantly Weakens Endangered Species Act” – The New York Times.
“Trump rolls back endangered species protections” – The Hill.
“Trump officials weaken protections for animals near extinction” – The Guardian.
Interior Sec. David Bernhardt said the changes were meant to ensure the ESA “remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal—recovery of our rarest species.” The changes, Bernhardt added, were designed to make sure “more resources can go where they will do the most good: on-the-ground conservation.”
The revisions include updated determinations for adding or removing species from the “endangered” list that are “based solely on the best available scientific and commercial information, and these will remain the only criteria on which listing determinations will be based.” Critics are claiming this will keep climate change speculation from affecting whether a species is on the list.
Contrary to what critics are claiming, the updated determinations simply require delisting and reclassifying a species be determined by “the same five statutory factors as the listing of a species in the first place.”
Environmentalists and their lawyers have been known to keep species on the list even when they are no longer considered endangered or threatened. In 2016, the Obama administration proposed removing Yellowstone grizzly bears from the Endangered Species List. The Trump administration followed through with this proposal in 2017. Environmentalists, possibly due to animus toward President Donald Trump, filed six lawsuits to challenge the decision, according to Pacific Standard. In 2018, a judge ruled that removing the bears from the list violated the ESA and they were put back on the list, even though they were no longer in danger and the National Park Service continued its conservation efforts.
Critics are also saying that the Trump administration will now include posting the economic cost of conservation, suggesting it would be a factor in determining whether to help an endangered species. But Gary Frazer, assistant director at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told the AP that the new policies only mean the costs will be disclosed to the public, but would not be a factor in the official decisions to consider protections.
“Nothing in here in my view is a radical change for how we have been consulting and listing species for the last decade or so,” Frazer told the outlet. He added that the changes simply bring “more transparency and certainty to the public about the way we’ll carry out our job.”
There has been criticism of the ESA over the years, including from the Property and Environment Research Center.