The Fish and Wildlife Service’s latest regulatory plan would reduce or strip protections from endangered species whose recovery is still in question, conservationists say.
In various proposals listed in the service’s May 22 regulatory agenda, the agency largely says it only wants to study de-listing certain endangered species, and says any decisions it makes will be based on solid science.
But environmental groups fear the agenda charts a course that is distinctly anti-conservation, extending a Trump administration effort to take species off the endangered list to allow development to move forward. The Trump administration in turn has argued that protections under the Endangered Species Act place too many regulatory burdens on developers and landowners.
For example, the agency proposes (RIN:1018-BC99) studying reclassifying the grizzly bear population in and around Montana’s Glacier National Park. In its May 22 regulatory agenda, the service said it will evaluate the bear’s biological status and decide whether the population in the park meets the definition of a distinct population segment, then rule on whether to take away that population’s protections under the Endangered Species Act.
But the American Society of Mammalogists argues that grizzly bear recovery throughout the U.S. must take into account all five of the bear’s fragmented populations. The group says taking one population off the table would hurt the bear’s overall survival because it would break up connectivity and gene flow between the different populations.
Between 800 and 1,200 grizzly bears remain in the U.S., mostly in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Washington. Fish and Wildlife said its study will begin in April 2020.
Another example is a proposal (RIN:1018-BD69) to reassess the listing status of the Canada lynx, which is currently listed as threatened. That proposal is guided by a 2018 Fish and Wildlife review that recommended delisting, on the grounds that the big cat isn’t in danger of extinction.
According to the Endangered Species Coalition, however, lynx populations are worryingly low, and global warming is forcing the animal to move north in search of snow and forests, making the animal more isolated and further jeopardizing its survival.
The Canada lynx rulemaking will kick off in September, according to the service.
Other proposals listed in the regulatory agenda are already in the works. Among them is a plan (RIN:1018-BD60) to review the status of the gray wolf in the lower 48 states, following a notice of proposed rulemaking to delist the species in March. The agency now says it wants to issue a final rule by March 2020.
At a May 22 House hearing shortly after the release of the regulatory agenda, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) said the Endangered Species Act is a “top target of the administration,” and that the the service has only listed 17 species since 2017, far below the precedent set by nearly every other administration since the Endangered Species Act became law.
In response, Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) said claims of mass species extinctions have historically been overblown, and that little science exists to justify those claims now.
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