The Trump Administration is Gutting the Endangered Species Act

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

The Environmental Species Act is landmark legislation. Since its inception in the 1970s it has served as a global model for species protection. By all accounts, the law has for decades proven effective and broadly supported. Nonetheless, the Trump administration now seeks to gut the law that stands as a bulwark against oncoming extinction.

The Trump administration announced big changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on August 12. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt assigned the new regulations which effectively remove important provisions and end protections for threatened species. 

The revisions to the ESA change regulations for how a new species is listed as endangered. They also differentiate between threatened and endangered species which would make it harder to gain protections for a threatened species. Species listed as threatened, which is the designation given to plants and animals before they become endangered, would have reduced protections. Under current regulations, both classifications have equal protection. The new regulations mean that threatened species are more likely to become endangered species. 

One key difference in the new regulations is that climate change is exempted from parts of the law, which makes it harder to protect species such as the polar bear and the bearded seal that are impacted by climate change. The new regulations prevent the designation critical habitat areas where species need to relocate to avoid climate change impacts.

“Undermining this popular and successful law is a major step in the wrong direction as we face the increasing challenges of climate change and its effects on wildlife,” said Lena Moffitt, Our Wild America Campaign Senior Director, Sierra Club, in a statement. 

“The Endangered Species Act works; our communities-- both natural and human-- have reaped the benefits. This safety net must be preserved.” 

Species are declining globally

Several reports found that wildlife species are declining globally. A World Wildlife Fund report released last year revealed that 60 percent of the populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians have declined globally from 1970 and 2014. A United Nations report released this spring found that one million species are threatened with extinction because of human activity. 

Moffit pointed out that “undermining this popular and successful law is a major step in the wrong direction” as climate change impacts are being felt around the world. She added that the ESA works to protect communities. “This safety net must be preserved,” she said.

Americans support the Endangered Species Act

The majority of Americans support the ESA. After the proposed rules were announced, over 800,000 Americans submitted public comments opposing the changes. A 2018 survey of 1,287 Americans found that four out of five support the ESA and only one in 10 oppose it. The survey notes that support for the act has remained stable over the last two decades.

In the fall of 2018, 105 members of the House and 34 senators sent letters to the Interior Department protesting the rollbacks of the ESA. Ten states, the District of Columbia, and over 30 indigenous tribal nations also opposed the new regulations. 

“Over the objections of nearly everyone, the Trump Administration has eviscerated one of our nation’s foundational environmental laws,” said Rebecca Riley, Legal Director for the Nature Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Poll after poll shows Americans support the Endangered Species Act as a lifeline to the wildlife it protects.”

What you can do

There is something you can do to let your voice be heard about Trump’s gutting of the Endangered Species Act. Sign the Sierra Club’s petition urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to protect endangered and weakened species.