WASHINGTON -- Weeks after a report by the UN Convention on Biodiversity warned of worldwide “unprecedented biodiversity loss,” the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration posted a rule Tuesday that redefines “critical habitat” under the Endangered Species Act. Under its new meaning, protections will only exist for places where a species lives today or for areas that, if unchanged, could host the species. This shifted definition means that locations that could one day become habitat, or that could be restored to become a suitable habitat, wouldn’t be protected.
The Endangered Species Act has been one of America’s most effective conservation laws and has helped prevent species such as the bald eagle and California condor from being wiped off the planet. This rule will be officially published Wednesday.
Environment America Conservation Advocate Alex Petersen issued the following statement:
“This decision by the Trump administration spells trouble for imperiled species in America. Animals that have already lost so much of the land they once roamed. Now they face an uphill climb from competition with invasive species, the effects of global warming, and the lack of genetic exchange between fractured habitats. This new rule ratchets up the danger, making even modest recovery efforts unworkable for many species that have already been decimated by human development.
“Habitat protections are essential if we want our incredible wild species, who are dwindling to shockingly low numbers, to continue to exist. Many endangered species occupy only a tiny fraction of their former range and need larger areas -- often outside their current habitat -- in order to survive and thrive in the long term. For example, this might mean protecting a section of a national forest that, in a couple decades, will have enough old-growth trees to sustain a population of northern spotted owls. Or it may require us to restore kelp forests as the first step in a sea otter reintroduction effort along the Pacific coast.
“This rollback is particularly appalling because it reverses successful practices followed by both Republican and Democratic administrations for decades. Under those practices, iconic animals, such as bald eagles and American alligators, have returned from the brink. We should not destroy the future homes of species just to build a few more roads and harvest a little more wood.
“We want to live in a world that’s rich in biodiversity, with butterflies floating in the breeze, owls hooting at us during a hike, and sea otters frolicking along the shore. America should be doing all we can to increase the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act, not hinder it with crass rollbacks.”
Environment America is a national network of 29 state environmental groups. Our staff work together for clean air, clean water, clean energy, wildlife and open spaces, and a livable climate. Our members across the United States put grassroots support behind our research and advocacy. Environment America is part of The Public Interest Network, which runs organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world, a set of core values, and a strategic approach to getting things done.