Conservation and Biodiversity

Potential changes to Endangered Species Act will weaken wildlife protections

Human activities and climate change currently threaten 1 million species with extinction, and the recent proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act will speed up the process. The changes, announced jointly this week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service, would rollback protection and weaken one of the best proven tools for preventing extinction in the last half century.

“These changes put some of our most iconic and valuable species at greater risk of extinction,” said Earth Day Network President Kathleen Rogers. “Tens of thousands of people commented against these proposed rules, and they were all ignored. The changes betray public trust and abandon the government’s mandate to protect some of our most at-risk species.”

For more than 45 years, the Endangered Species Act has recovered several of America’s most important species, helping save 99 percent of its listed species from extinction — species from the beluga whale to the bald eagle have been brought back from the brink due to the protections of the Endangered Species Act. But this week’s changes could put an end to all that.

Among the rollbacks, the proposed changes would allow economic factors to be considered when making species-saving decisions, which could provide oil, gas and mining companies a clearer path to development. The changes would also make it harder to designate habitat for threatened and endangered species, likely shrinking livable areas for these species.

Perhaps most significantly, the announced changes would ignore effects like climate change when determining species’ protection status, making it tougher to protect species most at risk from climate change.

The decision is baffling: Just as humans are accelerating species extinction, we’re loosening the very laws that protect them. By our hand, species are already going extinct at a rate 100 times faster than normal.

One major proposed change is the removal of the so-called “blanket rule,” a rule that automatically gives threatened species the same protections as endangered species. Administrators are replacing this rule with a species-by-species rule, which tailors specific regulations for each species added.

“These species-specific rules may seem like a positive initiative, but making these rules take a lot of time, and as a result, threatened species will likely go unprotected,” says Katie Wood, Earth Day Network Protect Our Species campaign manager.

With each species having different regulations, critics of the changes worry that industry and politics can put additional pressures on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Scientists predict that half of all species will be facing extinction by the end of the century. The new regulations bring this possibility one step closer to reality. Contact your representatives in the House and Senate and urge them to act against these changes and support our wildlife.

Read more about Earth Day Network’s Protect Our Species campaign, donate to the campaign and learn how we can help keep our species from extinction.