Our country’s vital wildlife protections are facing ongoing attacks that have unraveled decades of progress.
In August, two federal agencies proposed yet another change to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations, the effect of which would be to restrict areas that can be designated as critical habitat. This would represent a severe setback, because critical habitat is essential for stabilizing populations of threatened and endangered species. This proposal follows three changes to the ESA regulations made last year that, among other harmful things, curtailed protections for threatened species, made it easier for companies to build projects in critical habitat, allowed economic considerations to be weighed when deciding whether a species merits listing, and made it more difficult to protect species impacted by climate change.
Federal agencies have further harmed threatened and endangered species by shelving a rule limiting the number of endangered whales, dolphins, and sea turtles that could be killed as bycatch, as well as by prioritizing the downlisting or delisting of species protected under the ESA, including the gray wolf. Agencies have also made scientifically unsupported listing decisions, such as denying ESA protections to the Pacific walrus and the Northern Rocky Mountain fisher.
This is in addition to the reversal of policies that protect wildlife from various types of toxins, including lead ammunition, pesticides, and coal mining runoff, as well as new actions that opened vast areas of wildlife habitat to oil and gas drilling.
Failing to protect species and the areas they need to survive goes against the sentiments of the American public—80 percent of whom support the ESA and continued protections for public lands, according to a recent study led by researchers at Ohio State University. In a time of unprecedented wildlife extinction and habitat destruction, we should be working to strengthen—not weaken—vital protections for our nation’s wildlife.