SELC, partner groups urge continued protections for endangered species

Pelican Island in Cape Lookout National Seashore along North Carolina’s Outer Banks serves as nesting grounds for large groups of brown pelicans, whose populations have rebounded since being listed as endangered in the late 1970s.

The U.S Fish & Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) joint proposals to gut protections for endangered species recently were met with strong opposition from SELC and its conservation partners.

For over 40 years, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has been a remarkably successful conservation tool with 99 percent of species on the list saved from extinction. Iconic Southeast species such as the brown pelican and the American alligator would likely be a distant memory if not for this law.

Yet the Trump administration proposals would fundamentally overhaul how the Endangered Species Act operates and severely diminish protections for endangered and threatened species across the nation. This is particularly worrisome for the incredibly diverse and uniquely vulnerable Southeast region. SELC filed comments in late September on behalf of more than 50 conservation groups, calling on the agencies to rescind their three proposals.

The proposed regulatory changes would wreak havoc on Southeastern ecosystems, upending current and anticipated protections for rare species and habitats across the region.”

—SELC public comments

The proposed changes would affect species listing, designation of critical habitat, protection for threatened species, and the process for insuring that federal actions are not likely to cause the extinction of listed species. On all fronts, these regulations would harm our most imperiled wildlife and the habitats on which they depend.

The offices of North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam also voiced their opposition in a public comment letter, asking the agencies to prioritize conservation over economic interests.

We are concerned that altering the existing and successful state and federal partnership dedicated to recovering species, or weakening the ESA as these rulemakings propose, would make endangered species protection and restoration efforts in the southeast less effective and would harm our state and local economies.”

While the agencies argue that these proposals are inconsequential and will help alleviate administrative burden, SELC illustrates that, in fact, hundreds of the Southeast’s most imperiled species and habitats would be left with reduced protections, while actually contributing to current agency backlog.

In its comments, SELC provides a comprehensive list of 253 listed species and 190 species under review for listing in the Southeast that may be touched by the proposals. They range from the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale to lesser-known mussels that play an important role in preserving the water quality of our region. In addition, SELC found that 77 million acres and 19,000 miles of critical habitat have been designated in the Southeast, which could be severely impacted by the proposed changes.

Now more than ever, as development accelerates across the region and climate change impacts continue to be felt, federal officials should strive to make the Endangered Species Act work better for species, not for private and commercial interests.

Joining SELC in its comments are numerous organizations working to conserve the species and special places across the Southeast, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Sound Rivers, the Coastal Conservation League, Georgia ForestWatch, Alabama Rivers Alliance, and the Tennessee Environmental Council.

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