Several major changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA), proposed by the Interior Department, are open for comment from now until September 24th. These changes to internal regulations will affect everything from how threatened species are protected to how predictions about future habitat are used.
One change involves the repeal of the 4D rule, which automatically granted Endangered Species Act protections to species that have been designated as threatened. The new change would require that the agency draw up an individual rule tailored to that particular threatened species before protection takes place, rather than granting species automatic protection. Tailored plans can lead to good outcomes, but the delay required to write such a plan could mean a lengthy wait for species in danger. Funding for species recovery doesn’t tend to keep pace with the number of species listed, which could make the situation even more difficult. There is also nothing in current law preventing the Fish and Wildlife Service from creating tailored plans, which raises the question of why this new change was necessary at all.
Another change restricts the consideration of future effects when evaluating a specie’s likelihood of recovery. This change would tighten the definition of the forseeable future, excluding longterm predictions that are deemed too uncertain. The fact that climate change was not included in the description of factors to be considered has led some to believe that the changes may discourage staff from factoring climate change into their decisions. The Union of Concerned Scientists has a good take on why these provisions are a problem, which is available here.
Language related to consideration of the economic cost of species listings has also prompted concerns. The provision as written seems to only require that the economic impacts be researched and made available as part of the evaluation, without requiring that it be factored into the listing decision. However, many groups have read this as a hint from the administration that cost considerations should be a serious factor in listing decisions. If so, this would be directly counter to the criteria for listing decisions set out in the original law. At a minimum, adding economic analysis to the process increases the burden on the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Endangered Species Act is a bedrock environmental law with a proven track record of success. 99% of species listed under the Act have been saved from extinction, and the majority of Americans support the ESA.
We are partnering with the Endangered Species Coalition to help people submit comments on these regulations. Go here to get started.