Leaked Proposal Shows Trump Administration Planning to Kill Crucial Protections for Threatened Animals

“This will certainly be a disaster.”

The wolverine is a species currently proposed for listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. CREATISTA/Getty

Trump’s Department of the Interior is seeking to “revise” key, 40-year-old regulations which currently protect more than 300 threatened plant and animal species listed under the 1973 Endangered Species Act, according to a draft document that quietly leaked last week.

The document, a memo from the Interior to the White House, outlines a proposed rule that would virtually eliminate all automatic protections for species listed as “threatened” in the future by the Fish and Wildlife Service, a branch of the Interior. According to the proposal, protections won’t end for current threatened species, but rather only future ones. Before a copy of the proposal was leaked last week, several news outlets reported that protections would end for current threatened species, which we now know is not the case.

Under section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act, the FWS created regulations in 1978 which granted threatened species, or those approaching endangerment, the same blanket protections granted to endangered species. Broadly, these regulations prevent “take” of protected species—death, harm, or harassment from human activity, such as hunting, capturing, and, in some cases, destroying their habitat through development, logging, or other means.

“If you’re a threatened species and you don’t have ‘take’ protections, you don’t really have any protections at all,” Noah Greenwald, the endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, tells Mother Jones.

The change could be disastrous for species like the North American wolverine, the gopher tortoise, and the Sierra Nevada red fox, which are proposed for listing, or are being considered for, threatened status in the future. Making things more dire is that extinction rates are only going to worsen as the climate changes. Across the globe, scientists estimate extinction rates today are already between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than they would be without humans on the planet and predict one in six species could face extinction with our current climate trajectory.

The proposed rule would still allow the FWS to grant protections on a case-by-case basis, if they so choose. But, Greenwald interprets the room for exceptions to mean that the proposal is just another example of the Trump administration’s quest to please corporate interests. “It’s going to turn every listing into a negotiation with industry,” he says.

On a practical level, this change could create a bureaucratic nightmare. The process of listing species as threatened is already slow and cumbersome, says Greenwald, and putting the FWS in control of granting protections—or not—on a case-by-case basis may not go so smoothly. “This will certainly be a disaster,” he says.

“Given that there’s a backlog of more than 500 species, this is just going to slow the process down. We know of at least 47 species so far that have gone extinct waiting for protection,” Greenwald says. “The Fish and Wildlife Service, on average, has taken 12 years to protect species under the Endangered Species Act.”

The proposed rule hasn’t yet been published and is still “under inter-agency review,” meaning it “is subject to change,” Gavin Shire, the chief of public affairs at FWS, tells Mother Jones in an email. The administration is “working to develop regulations that improve our implementation of the ESA so that it is clear, unambiguous, consistent and flexible,” Shire adds, and says the changes are meant to encourage collaboration “from a broad range of partners.”

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

According to Greenwald, his organization will likely challenge “this disastrous plan” in court.

Read the full memo here:

 



DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.