Changes Coming to Endangered Species Act Protection Fading for Some Animals, Plants

By Bryan Clark The Idaho Falls Post Register | The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), August 23, 2018 | Go to article overview

Changes Coming to Endangered Species Act Protection Fading for Some Animals, Plants


Bryan Clark The Idaho Falls Post Register, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)


Endangered species in Washington

There are eight species of animal listed as endangered in Washington State, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Those species include the pygmy rabbit, the gray wolf and the Canada lynx.

The gray wolf is only listed as endangered in the western two-thirds of the state. It's estimated there are a minimum of 122 wolves statewide, with most of those animals living on the eastern side of the state.

Meanwhile, in January U.S. Fish and Game announced plans to delist the notoriously secretive Canada lynx. Biologists estimate there are between 20 and 100 lynx in Washington.

As for the pygmy rabbits, the diminutive creatures are struggling to survive in Washington's sage brush. It's estimated 250 rabbits remain in Washington. Development and loss and fragmentation of habitat, in addition to wildfires, have devastated the population.

- Eli Francovich

Changes are coming for the most significant piece of federal legislation aimed at preventing animals and plants from fading out of existence: the Endangered Species Act.

It's a hugely significant piece of legislation for Idaho, where the greater sage grouse, the Yellowstone grizzly, the gray wolf and many other species have either been listed or considered for listing under the act.

First enacted in the 1973, the Endangered Species Act has been behind the preservation and recovery of several iconic species, including the bald eagle.

The changes have been brewing for a long time, pushed by Western governors, congressional Republicans and interest groups in the agricultural and energy sectors, who object to the act's effects on economic development and resource extraction.

Proposals that didn't have a shot under previous administrations got a second wind after the election of Donald Trump and his appointment of Ryan Zinke as Secretary of the Interior. Last year, a raft of bills was introduced in the House Natural Resources Committee, where chairman Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, declared flatly that the "Endangered Species Act doesn't work."

The congressional bills haven't moved forward. In the meantime, the Trump administration took the dramatic step of issuing a new set of proposed rules for implementing and enforcing the Endangered Species Act.

Among other changes, some of which originated with those bills, the rules would make it so Endangered Species Act protections don't automatically apply to species designated as "threatened," as has happened in the past. In certain cases, the Department of the Interior would develop estimates of the economic impact of designated areas as critical habitat for endangered species, instead of following past rules of putting sole focus on the role of habitat in supporting endangered populations.

Environmental groups have decried the move as "gutting" the Endangered Species Act.

"It's very insidious," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director of the Center for Biological Diversity. "It's a targeted missile to seriously weaken the protections for endanger species."

But groups such as the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation see relief from the burdens of regulation.

"The Endangered Species Act is clearly flawed," said Sean Ellis, a spokesman for the group. "... Farmers support protecting wildlife, of course they do. But farmers are also disproportionately impacted."

The sixth mass extinction

The changes come as scientists have found clear evidence that the reduction in biodiversity across the planet is proceeding at a pace that has happened only a handful of times in the roughly 4 billion years life has existed on Earth.

The expansion of humans throughout the world has driven a vast number of extinctions, particularly since the Industrial Revolution. It's such a large wave of extinctions that paleontologists have given it a name: the Holocene or Anthropocene extinction.

A 2015 scientific paper published in Science Advances found that, even using conservative assumptions, the current rate of species extinction is about 100 times the natural rate. …

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