In August 2019, the Trump Administration announced sweeping changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA), slashing regulation that helps protect wildlife and plants from extinction.
The modifications make it harder to add species to the list and easier to remove those currently listed. They allow regulators to bypass long-term climate change goals and reduce existing protections for species that are deemed ‘endangered’, but not ‘critically’ so. The revisions open the door for continued oil and gas exploration by limiting the area of protected land. Although the Act may have been in need of some modernization, the current administration’s redraft is a step back, a short-sighted failure by a government focused on short-term economic growth versus long-term sustainability.
The announcement drew immediate legal action. Bob Dreher, vice president at Defenders of Wildlife, a non-profit which is part of a group of environmental organizations that just issued a lawsuit, said: “This will be a battle royal. You’re going to see a strong, strong movement opposing cuts to the ESA. I don’t want to sound overly confident or cocky that we’re going to defeat this. It’s going to be the fight of my conservation career.”
Republicans are an impatient bunch. They have argued that species recovery takes too long. Only 39 of the 1900 listed species, which include animals like the cheetah, alligator, blue whale, polar bear, and the Imperial pheasant have been fully recovered. But it is estimated that since the Act passed in 1973, extinction has been prevented for 291 species. That’s a rate of roughly 15% over 46 years. Yes, conservation efforts do take a long time, but researchers admit that ESA recovery evaluations are in need of an overhaul.
Why does recovery planning take so long?
Abel Valdivia, a marine ecologist at the Center for Biological Diversity in California, has been studying the recovery of ESA-listed marine mammals and sea turtles. Recovery plans serve as action guidelines for conservationists, but also regulators. Their ultimate goal is to downgrade species from “endangered” or “threatened” status.