Trump administration announces changes to Endangered Species Act that weaken some protections

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A monarch butterfly collects nectar from a flower in the People's Garden in Washington D.C. in 2014

"I applaud Secretary Bernhardt and the Trump Administration for their continued work to make the federal government more efficient and effective, and I look forward to continue working with them to modernize the Fish and Wildlife Service".

'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. In that vein, language in the act that required officials to rely heavily on science when considering to list a species as threatened or endangered regardless of economic impact was removed.

The regulations reflect the Trump administration's latest move to overhaul the nation's environmental frameworks - in this case, a law credited with saving the bald eagle and grizzly bear from extinction.

Previously, threatened species, which account for 20% of listed species under the Act, would receive the same automatic protections as endangered species, according to the liberal Center for American Progress policy research organization.

Environmentalists have fought back with lawsuits, and some rollbacks have later been reinstated. The efforts include repeal of an Obama-era act meant to fight climate change by getting dirtier-burning coal-fired power plants out of the country's electrical grid, rolling back tough Obama administration mileage standards for cars and light trucks, and lifting federal protections for millions of miles of waterways and wetlands.

"The best way to uphold the Endangered Species Act is to do everything we can to ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal - recovery of our rarest species", Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement Monday. Conservationists have also promised legal action.

"The Trump administration's decision to finalize these unsafe rollbacks comes at a time when threatened and endangered species are facing increasing pressure from global forces like climate change, drought, desertification, deforestation, ocean acidification and the rapid destruction of critical habitats", Hayes said.

Many western state lawmakers praised the move by the Trump administration.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official Margaret Everson said the changes "provide the maximum degree of regulatory certainty" while protecting species.

The Endangered Species Act has been a contentious issue in places like Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, with Republican politicians complaining in the past that the act failed to take into account the needs of landowners, hunters and ranchers whose lands are the habit of numerous endangered species.

"Instead of undercutting the Endangered Species Act and other bedrock environmental laws, we should be strengthening these laws to improve their effectiveness for people and wildlife", said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife.

"They're trying to narrow the evidence we can consider and narrow the scope of time we're going to be projecting the impact on these species ... limit the forward-looking data", like climate models, Riley said.

Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico also criticized the plans.

"We must modernize the Endangered Species Act in a way that empowers states, promotes the recovery of species, and allows local economies to thrive", Barrasso said. "We'll see the Trump administration in court about it", Drew Caputo, a vice president of litigation for the conservation advocacy group Earthjustice.

At least 10 attorneys general joined conservation groups in protesting an early draft of the changes, saying they put more wildlife at greater risk of extinction. Shrinking habitat, exploitation of natural resources, climate change and pollution are the main drivers of species loss and are threatening more than 40% of amphibians, 33% of coral reefs and over a third of all marine mammals with extinction, the report states.



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