Trump administration aims to deny protection to more endangered animals
BILLINGS, Mont. (WKBT) — The Trump administration released a proposal Friday to deny habitat protections to endangered animals and plants in areas it contends would provide greater economic benefits from development.
Critics fired back that the 38-page proposal could leave land and endangered animals at the mercy of more energy development and other activities that would undermine preservation.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal is the administration’s latest move in a years-long overhaul of how to apply the Endangered Species Act.
Wildlife advocates say it could allow more drilling, mining and other activities in areas that are crucial to the survival of dwindling populations of plants and animals.
Administration officials counter that the proposal gives more leeway to local community needs when officials want to build facilities such as schools and hospitals.
But the proposal indicates that exemptions from protection could be considered for a much broader array of developments, including requests of private companies that lease federal lands or have permits to use them. Government-issued leases and permits can allow energy development, grazing, recreation, logging and other commercial uses of public lands.
Other steps under Trump to scale back species rules included lifting blanket protections for animals newly listed as threatened, setting cost estimates for saving species and a pending proposal to restrict what areas fit under the definition of “habitat”.
Governors from 22 Western states and Pacific territories sent a bipartisan letter to the wildlife service demanding more say in how habitat gets defined, because that decision could further restrict what land and waterways can be protected. The governors insisted that they are “co-sovereigns with the federal government” and should have an equal role in the decision.
“It is important for federal agencies and state wildlife managers to maintain a close working relationship to ensure that any new interpretation or application of the term does not result in unintended consequences for state management of species,” stated the letter signed by Democratic Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, chairwoman of Western Governors Association, and Republican Idaho Gov. Brad Little, vice chairman of the association.
After an imperiled species is listed under the act, federal officials designate critical habitat that it needs to survive. That can include where a species lives and areas where they don’t live but are deemed essential for survival.
Such designations can come into conflict with private landowners and those using public lands for recreation, grazing or energy development.
Animals that the proposed changes could affect include the struggling lesser prairie chicken, a grasslands bird found in five states in the south-central U.S., and the rare dunes sagebrush lizard that lives among the oil fields of western Texas and eastern New Mexico, wildlife advocates said.
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