New Changes to the Endangered Species Act Weaken Wildlife Protections

The changes could increase protected species' vulnerability

Endangered Species Act
Polar bears are among the species that may be most at risk

New changes to the Endangered Species Act were announced on Monday, the New York Times reported. The changes will affect the way the act is applied, significantly weakening the wildlife protections provided by the conservation law.

The revisions to the act could make new mining, oil and gas drilling, and development easier in areas where protected species live, while also making it harder to consider the effects of climate change when determining whether to grant protection to a new species. Moreover, these changes would also permit the consideration of economic factors when making such decisions. Under current law, these determinations must be made only based on science, without reference to economic concerns.

The act was first signed into law under the Nixon administration, and it has since been credited with saving a number of endangered plant and animal species from extinction, including the bald eagle, the grizzly bear, the American alligator, the peregrine falcon, the humpback whale, the Tennessee purple coneflower and the Florida manatee.

“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. “The Act’s effectiveness rests on clear, consistent and efficient implementation.”

The new changes to the act puts such consistency at risk by making it easier to remove an endangered species from the protected list and to weaken protections for species remaining on the list.

According to Drew Caputo, vice president of litigation for lands, wildlife and oceans at environmental law organization Earthjustice, some of the species most at risk include polar bears, seals and beluga whales.

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