U.S. environmentalists are on the warpath after the Trump administration proposed redefining the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to essentially terminate protection for rare species on Thursday.
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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced the finalized draft of a proposal to alter the legal language guarding nature reserves and providing threatened species the same level of protection as their endangered counterparts.
"This is a fairly sweeping, across-the-board reduction in protections for all listed species. The goal is quite clear: to basically greenlight development," Brett Hartl, the director of government affairs for the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Huffington Post.
In an interview with the Washington Post, President and Chief Executive of Defenders of Wildlife Jamie Rappaport Clark said the new proposal would essentially eliminate the effectiveness of the ESA and put species at risk of extinction.
"The signal being sent by the Trump administration is clear: protecting America's wildlife and wildlands is simply not on their agenda."
Principal Deputy Director of U.S. FWS Greg Sheehan, however, defended the draft, saying that the changes would simply regularize the listing and delisting process.
"Keeping species on the list when they no longer face the threat of extinction can take valuable resources away from those species that do warrant protection under the act, and discourages the kind of state and private partnerships that are essential for the conservation of plants and wildlife that need our help," Sheehan said.
The Center for Biological Diversity was quick to point out that had the same logic been employed in the 1970s, both the bald eagle and the grey whale would now be extinct.
"These proposals would slam a wrecking ball into the most crucial protections for our most endangered wildlife," said Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the nonprofit environmental group.
The Trump administration alleged that the current terminology which guarantees endangered and threatened species protection for the 'foreseeable future' is too broad and should be limited.
A former U.S. Fish and Wildlife official, Robert (Bob) Dreher, said the intention was to prevent politicians from deciding if preventive measures for extinction were "too expensive" because "the value of life on Earth is priceless."
"If we made those decisions you can see under different administrations we would end up protecting nothing. Because who knows what a snail is worth? Who knows what a frog is worth?"