Interior Dept. weakens protections for endangered animals

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A monarch butterfly collects nectar from a flower in the People's Garden in Washington D.C. in 2014

The change also eliminates "critical habitat" protections for some endangered species and ends requirements that other agencies "funding, authorizing or conducting an activity" first consult with FWS to make sure said activity does not harm protected wildlife.

But "a species could be listed right now and it would have no further protections than it did before it was listed under the act" until a species-specific review takes place, she added, and even then it was not clear how robust those protections would be.

The changes include removing a rule that automatically conveys the same protections to threatened species and endangered species, and allowing information on economic impact to be gathered when making determinations on how wildlife is listed.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist, announced the change on Monday, saying the change allowed the law to "ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal - recovery of our rarest species", he said.

The Endangered Species Act, which Republican President Richard Nixon signed into law in 1973, protects more than 1,600 plant and animals species today, and is credited with saving the California condor, the Florida manatee, the gray whale and grizzly bear among others.

Both Democratic state prosecutors pointed to a United Nations report earlier this year warning that more than 1 million species globally are in danger of extinction.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official Margaret Everson said the changes "provide the maximum degree of regulatory certainty" while protecting species.

"Nothing in here in my view is a radical change for how we have been consulting and listing species for the last decade or so", he said.

Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water and Wildlife, said the administration is simply trying to make the process more efficient. Poll after poll shows Americans support the Endangered Species Act as a lifeline to the wildlife it protects. Steve Daines, R-Mont., said in a statement.

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"We also are clear that we're continuing to make listing determinations as directed by the statute exclusively on the basis of the best available scientific information and without consideration for the economic impacts", Frazer said.

Environmentalists have fought back with lawsuits, and some rollbacks have later been reinstated.

"The Trump administration's decision to finalize these unsafe rollbacks comes at a time when threatened and endangered species are facing increasing pressure from global forces like climate change, drought, desertification, deforestation, ocean acidification and the rapid destruction of critical habitats", Hayes said.

"The climate crisis underlies so much of the extinction crisis", but the rule could make it more hard to use the climate data to protect species in the United States, said Rebecca Riley, legal director of the nature program for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Since taking over the department, Bernhardt has taken action on 53 policy changes "requested or supported by energy companies and trade associations", almost two dozen of which reduced protection for wildlife, according to a Center for Western Priorities analysis.

"Bernhardt's record as Interior Secretary is shameful".

"Ending this practice. would strain the resources of USFWS and NMFS, costing managers valuable time before they can take action to protect a species", said Kate Kelly, the organization's public lands director. Conservationists have also promised legal action.

'These changes crash a bulldozer through the Endangered Species Act's lifesaving protections for America's most vulnerable wildlife, ' Noah Greenwald, the Center for Biological Diversity's endangered species director, said in a statement.

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