Trump administration proposal looks to weaken Endangered Species Act

Habitats of beloved threatened and endangered species such as the red cockaded woodpecker, red wolf, and manta ray would be affected.

The Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to weaken the Endangered Species Act continue with a proposed regulation that would narrow what qualifies as “habitat” under the Act and in turn limit protections afforded to threatened and endangered species and the ecosystems these species depend upon.

The proposal would, for the first time in the act’s 50-year history, define “habitat,” and it would do so in a way that would impair conservation and recovery of imperiled species. Until September 4, you can weigh in on this proposal here. Read on to learn more.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service have put out two potential definitions, both of which would further restrict habitat protections, especially for species in need of future expanded habitat options in light of climate change or increasing habitat loss.

Conserving and protecting habitat is a key strategy for saving threatened and endangered species across the Southeast. The proposal would have sweeping consequences for ecosystems, from the Atlantic coast to the Appalachian mountain forests and everything in between.”

—Ramona McGee, Staff Attorney

SELC attorneys fear either definition would exclude important habitat from protection under the act, including degraded or fragmented habitats that require restoration, or habitat for species whose range is expected to shift as a result of climate change.

“Habitat degradation and loss is the leading cause of species extinction,” says SELC Staff Attorney Ramona McGee. “Conserving and protecting habitat is a key strategy for saving threatened and endangered species across the Southeast. The proposal would have sweeping consequences for ecosystems, from the Atlantic coast to the Appalachian mountain forests and everything in between.”

Defining “habitat” by regulation is unnecessary. While “critical habitat” is defined in the Endangered Species Act itself, a formal definition of “habitat” has never previously existed in 50 years or implementation.  Injecting a new, separate definition of habitat would not only undercut critical habitat designations under the Act—it would also impact species protections contained throughout the Act, and in other federal statutes.  Across the Southeast, there are currently 254 species that receive ESA protections by their classification as endangered (176), threatened (75), or experimental populations (32).

The Services are accepting public comment on this unwise and unnecessary proposal through September 4. You can read the proposal and submit a comment here.

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