Press Release | June 21, 2023

Endangered Species Act changes ‘step in the right direction’ towards protecting Southern wildlife

Proposal addresses many Trump era rollbacks

WASHINGTON– Today U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced proposed changes to their regulations implementing the Endangered Species Act. These changes would reverse many of the Trump administration’s regulatory rollbacks to the nearly 50-year-old statute. This update is an important step towards protecting Southern habitat and biodiversity.

The proposals would address many of the rollbacks made by the Trump administration in 2019, including restoring historic, science-based standards for how the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service determines whether to list species and designate critical habitat.

“These changes are a step in the right direction, addressing many of the unscientific and anti-conservation rollbacks enacted in 2019,” said Ramona McGee, leader of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Wildlife Program. “But the South’s rich biodiversity will still need more help to fend off the worst effects of habitat loss and a changing climate.”

One of the changes would also restore the Fish and Wildlife Service’s historic practice of defaulting to extending threatened species the same protections as endangered species. The FWS could still choose to lessen the protections for a particular threatened species through a separate rule. Under the Trump rollbacks, threatened species received no protections unless FWS chose to craft a species-specific rule for the species at the time of listing.

The South is home to more than 250 species protected by the Endangered Species Act, including loggerhead sea turtles, north Atlantic right whales, red-cockaded woodpeckers, red knots, and red wolves. Habitat loss is the leading cause of extinction both worldwide and in the South. Human activity and climate change have accelerated habitat degradation threatening our region’s rich biodiversity. Stronger Endangered Species Act protections also help to safeguard forests and wetlands that play a critical role absorbing and storing carbon—mitigating climate change impacts.

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Terah Boyd

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