Last week the Obama administration proposed a new rule that would change the way plants and animals are classified under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in different states.
The new rule would grant endangered species protection across state lines, forcing states to adhere to federal regulations, which is expected to make it easier for the ESA to be enforced and help clarify which species are eligible for protection. However, it may make it more difficult to add new species or keep some species on the list under this proposed change.
“The new policy would clarify that a plant or animal could be listed as threatened or endangered if threats occur in a “significant portion of its range,” even if the threat crosses state lines and does not apply in the species’ entire range,” according to the AP.
This rule proposed by the two federal agencies responsible for administering the ESA, the Interior Department’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), would essentially replace a Bush-era policy that allowed for animals to be classified differently in neighboring states and applied protection only to areas where they were struggling, a policy that was withdrawn after being rejected in federal courts earlier this year in the case of gray wolves.
“This proposed interpretation will provide consistency and clarity for the services and our partners, while making more effective use of our resources and improving our ability to protect and recover species before they are on the brink of extinction,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “By taking action to protect imperiled native fish, wildlife and plants, we can ensure a healthy future for our communities and protect treasured landscapes for future generations.”
But not everyone agrees that this interpretation will be beneficial to species who need protection.
“The phrase “significant portion of range” is important, because it means that species need not be at risk of extinction globally to receive protection. The policy proposed today sharply limits interpretation of this phrase by both defining “significant” to mean only where the species currently exists, not its historic range and by defining significant to mean that loss of the species from that portion of range would threaten the survival of the species as a whole,” according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Under the policy proposed today, a species could be absolutely gone or close to vanishing almost everywhere it’s always lived — but not qualify for protection because it can still be called secure on one tiny patch of land,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director the Center. “The policy absolutely undermines the spirit of the Endangered Species Act and will be a recipe for extinction of our native wildlife if it’s finalized — a loophole that’s really a black hole. It will allow for massive species decline and habitat destruction.”
The timing of the proposed change also coincides with a study published this month in the journal Conservation Letters, that compared the number of species listed under the ESA to the number listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List, which is the mother list for threatened species worldwide, and found that nearly 75% of animals, or 531 species, in the U.S. that are globally classified as threatened or endangered have no protection under the ESA.
“Our study found that hundreds of imperiled animals are not receiving the protection they need to survive,” said Bert Harris, lead author of the study and a graduate student at the University of Adelaide in Australia. “The Endangered Species Act is the world’s most effective law for saving species, but it can only work if species are protected as threatened or endangered.”
You can submit a comment about the proposed change at the Federal eRulemaking Portal by following the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. [FWS–R9–ES–2011–0031].
Photo credit: Troy B Thompson via flickr