In an August 12, 2019 announcement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) unveiled changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This announcement follows a 2018 draft of the rulemaking, which received considerable feedback from stakeholders during the public comment period.
A Bit of Background
Signed by President Nixon in 1973, the ESA provides a framework to conserve and protect endangered and threatened species and their habitats. Since implementation, it is estimated to have saved from extinction 99% of the species protected under it. Currently, it offers federal protections to 947 plant species and 1,471 animal species. Over the last 46 years, amendments have been made to the Act, but the recently announced changes are considered by some to be the most substantive to date.
What are the Key Changes?
A full description of the changes can be found in three separate documents on the FWS’ webpage. Briefly, the new rules apply only to future listings and are not retroactive. Moving forward, species listed as “threatened” will no longer be guaranteed the same level of protections given to “endangered” species. The rulings also change how administrators evaluate threatened species, limiting the circumstances under which a species can be designated as such. Additionally, the new rules may make it easier to delist species by removing the requirement that administrators must consider a species’ ability to recover prior to removing them from endangered or threatened lists. Also, the changes allow regulators to factor in economic considerations (e.g. lost revenue) when making determinations on appropriate levels of protection.
When Will Changes to the ESA Take Effect?
The rules take effect 30 days after publication to the Federal Register, which is expected to occur in the next couple weeks. Several states including California and Maine have announced plans to sue the Trump Administration for violation of the ESA.
Jana White, Senior Ecologist, PhD
Kimberly Paradis, Lead Project Scientist