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Trump Draws Backlash From Wildlife Groups For Revisions To Endangered Species Act


Next, to more big changes the Trump administration is making, these ones to the way it carries out the Endangered Species Act. That is the law credited with saving wildlife such as bald eagles and grizzly bears. These changes are the biggest revisions in decades, and there has been swift backlash from wildlife groups and Democratic lawmakers. They warn it will be harder to protect species at a time when many face mounting threats. NPR's Nathan Rott reports.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: The Trump administration has been working on these revisions to the Endangered Species Act for a long time, urged on by Republican lawmakers and industry groups who think that the landmark wildlife conservation law has been applied too strictly. Although the Endangered Species Act enjoys broad bipartisan support among American voters, according to recent polling, some view it as a tool for federal government overreach, particularly in Western states.

Making the announcement earlier today, Karen Budd-Falen, deputy solicitor at the Interior Department, said the changes were made to provide greater transparency.


KAREN BUDD-FALEN: As well as to provide regulatory assurances and protection for both endangered species and the businesses who rely on the use of federal and private land.

ROTT: Budd-Falen worked as a property rights attorney in Wyoming before coming to Interior and has long been a critic of federal policies that she thinks go too far.

Today's moves are being celebrated by industry groups from utilities to mining companies and are being roundly criticized by wildlife organizations. But discerning what's actually in the changes is a little more complicated.

JAKE LI: The listing and critical habitat - let's see - is 140 pages.

ROTT: Jake Li, the director for biodiversity at the Environment Policy Innovation Center, is still trying to get through all of the revisions. There is more than 300 pages in total.

LI: And, unfortunately, the changes are spread throughout the entire document.

ROTT: Li says from what he's seen so far, much of what's changing is administrative. It's bookkeeping. Other parts, though, he says, are more problematic.

LI: There are a number of changes that do weaken the Endangered Species Act.

ROTT: For one, the administration is trying to weaken the level of protections for threatened species. That's not the same as endangered, but for more than 40 years, they've been protected the same way. Not anymore. Now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will determine how much protection to give threatened species on a case-by-case basis.

Another change will require wildlife officials to consider occupied habitat, the place a plant or animal currently is, before looking at unoccupied areas, like a place it may migrate to in the future. That, wildlife advocates say, is short-sighted in an era of climate change. As many as 1 million species are at risk of disappearing, many within decades, according to a recent U.N. report. Habitat is shrinking because of human development and climate impacts like rising seas.

In a press conference blasting the changes, New Mexico Senator Tom Udall, a Democrat, pointed that out.


TOM UDALL: Now is the time to strengthen the ESA, not cripple it. There's a coalition in Congress who agrees with me. We need to consider stopping these regulations by any means, including the Congressional Review Act.

ROTT: That may just be one of the many challenges facing the Trump administration's revisions. State attorneys general and environmental groups are already promising to sue as well.

Nathan Rott, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF KEANE SONG, "ATLANTIC") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.