SELC, partners join legal battle over protections for endangered wildlife

Several southern conservation groups moved to defend important federal protections for endangered species that were recently challenged by 18 states, including South Carolina and Alabama. 

Representing Black Warrior Riverkeeper, Defenders of Wildlife, and the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, SELC filed a motion to intervene today in support of the federal rules. These rules allow agencies to more fully protect important and vulnerable “critical habitats” in the Southeast necessary for the survival of species such as endangered sea turtles and piping plovers.

“For over four decades the Endangered Species Act has prevented hundreds of species from going extinct, and it has protected the beautiful places and diverse wildlife that make the Southeast so special,” said Senior Attorney Catherine Wannamaker. “This attempt is the first salvo against the Endangered Species Act, so we are taking action to ensure these important protections stay in place for all who care about the South.”

The states opposing these protections, led by Alabama’s former attorney general Luther Strange, took no legal action for nine months after the new protections were put in place in March 2016. Yet, just weeks after the election of President Trump, the states filed a lawsuit to throw out the rules.

Shortly after filing this lawsuit, the states wrote to newly-elected President Trump and urged him to undo these important protections. Last week, the Trump Administration signaled that it might be considering such a rollback by seeking a stay of the litigation to re-examine its position on the rules.

Similarly, recent legislative efforts on the Hill seek to weaken the Endangered Species Act, which currently protects well over a thousand species and their habitats, by making it more difficult to list species or expediting the removal of already listed species. The 114th Congress saw no less than 130 bills and amendments that would have weakened the Endangered Species Act. Already more than a dozen bills have been introduced in this Congress that would reduce protections for a variety of species.

For 40 years, the Endangered Species Act has helped to preserve 98 percent of the plant and animal species under its protection from extinction. The ESA is responsible for protecting many species in the Southeast, including the American alligator, the brown pelican, the peregrine falcon, and the Atlantic piping plover.

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