EN­DAN­GERED SPECIES:

Changes in­clude al­low­ing cost to be taken into ac­count

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Ellen Knick­meyer

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion on Mon­day rolled out some of the broad­est changes in decades to en­force­ment of the land­mark En­dan­gered Species Act, al­low­ing the gov­ern­ment to put an eco­nomic cost on sav­ing a species, among other changes that crit­ics con­tend could speed ex­tinc­tion for some strug­gling plants and an­i­mals.

WASHINGTON — The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion on Mon­day rolled out some of the broad­est changes in decades to en­force­ment of the land­mark En­dan­gered Species Act, al­low­ing the gov­ern­ment to put an eco­nomic cost on sav­ing a species and other changes crit­ics con­tend could speed ex­tinc­tion for some strug­gling plants and an­i­mals.

In­te­rior Sec­re­tary David Bern­hardt and other ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials con­tend the changes im­prove ef­fi­ciency of over­sight, while pro­tect­ing rare species.

“The best way to up­hold the En­dan­gered Species Act is to do ev­ery­thing we can to en­sure it re­mains ef­fec­tive in achiev­ing its ul­ti­mate goal — re­cov­ery of our rarest species,” he said in a state­ment. “An ef­fec­tively ad­min­is­tered Act en­sures more re­sources can go where they will do the most good: on-the-ground con­ser­va­tion.”

Demo­cratic law­mak­ers, sev­eral state at­tor­neys gen­er­als and con­ser­va­tion groups said the over­haul would ham­per pro­tec­tions for en­dan­gered and threat­ened species.

The En­dan­gered Species Act is cred­ited with help­ing save the bald ea­gle, Cal­i­for­nia con­dor and scores of other an­i­mals and plants from ex­tinc­tion since Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1973. The En­dan­gered Species Act cur­rently pro­tects more than 1,600 species in the United States and its ter­ri­to­ries.

The changes in­cluded al­low­ing eco­nomic cost to taken into ac­count as the fed­eral gov­ern­ment weighs pro­tect­ing a strug­gling species, al­though Congress has stip­u­lated that eco­nomic costs not be a fac­tor in de­cid­ing whether to pro­tect an an­i­mal. That pro­hi­bi­tion was meant to en­sure that the log­ging in­dus­try, for ex­am­ple, would not be able to push to block pro­tec­tions for a forest-dwelling an­i­mal on eco­nomic grounds.

Gary Frazer, an as­sis­tant di­rec­tor at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice, told re­porters that the gov­ern­ment would ad­here to that by dis­clos­ing the costs to the pub­lic, with­out be­ing a fac­tor for the of­fi­cials con­sid­er­ing the pro­tec­tions.

But Brett Hartl, a gov­ern­ment af­fairs di­rec­tor for the Cen­ter for Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion group, con­tended any such price tag would be in­flated, and “an in­vi­ta­tion for po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence” in the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion whether to save a species.

“You have to be re­ally naive and cyn­i­cal and disin­gen­u­ous to pre­tend” other­wise, Hartl said. “That’s the rea­son that Congress way back pro­hib­ited the Ser­vice from do­ing that,” Hartl said. “It’s a sci­ence ques­tion: Is a species go­ing ex­tinct, yes or no?”

Other changes in­clude end­ing blan­ket pro­tec­tions for species newly listed as threat­ened and a re­vi­sion that con­ser­va­tion groups say could block of­fi­cials from con­sid­er­ing the im­pact on wildlife from cli­mate change, a ma­jor and grow­ing threat to many species.

“Noth­ing in here in my view is a rad­i­cal change for how we have been con­sult­ing and list­ing species for the last decade or so,” Frazer said.

In­stead, he said, it brings “more trans­parency and cer­tainty to the pub­lic about the way we’ll carry out our job.”

While the nearly half­cen­tury old act has been over­whelm­ingly suc­cess­ful in sav­ing an­i­mals and plants that are listed as en­dan­gered, bat­tles over some of the list­ings have been years­long and leg­end, pit­ting north­ern spot­ted owls, snail darters and other crea­tures and their pro­tec­tors in court and po­lit­i­cal fights with in­dus­tries, lo­cal op­po­nents and oth­ers.

Repub­li­can law­mak­ers have pushed for years to change the En­dan­gered Species Act it­self, in Congress.

Sen. John Bar­rasso, a Wy­oming Repub­li­can who leads the Sen­ate En­vi­ron­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee, said Mon­day’s changes in en­force­ment to the act were “a good start,” but said he would con­tinue work­ing to change the act it­self.

Democrats blasted the changes, and con­ser­va­tion­ists promised a court fight.

The reg­u­la­tions” take a wreck­ing ball to one of our old­est and most ef­fec­tive environmen­tal laws, the En­dan­gered Species Act,” Sen. Tom Udall, a New Mex­ico Demo­crat, said in a state­ment. “As we have seen time and time again, no environmen­tal pro­tec­tion — no mat­ter how ef­fec­tive or pop­u­lar — is safe from this ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

At least 10 at­tor­neys gen­eral joined con­ser­va­tion groups in protest­ing an early draft of the changes, say­ing they put more wildlife at greater risk.

“This ef­fort to gut pro­tec­tions for en­dan­gered and threat­ened species has the same two fea­tures of most Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ac­tions: It’s a gift to in­dus­try, and it’s il­le­gal. We’ll see the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion in court about it,” Drew Ca­puto, a vice pres­i­dent of lit­i­ga­tion for the con­ser­va­tion ad­vo­cacy group Earthjus­tice.

SCOTT MA­SON/THE WINCH­ESTER STAR 2016

The En­dan­gered Species Act is cred­ited with help­ing save the bald ea­gle, Cal­i­for­nia con­dor and scores of other an­i­mals and plants from ex­tinc­tion since it be­came law in 1973.

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