The Trump administration wants to change how endangered species are protected by the U.S. government.
Administration officials on Thursday proposed new rules they said would advance conservation by simplifying and improving how the landmark Endangered Species Act is used.
The changes include potential limits on habitat protections, an end to automatic protections for threatened plants and animals, and streamlining inter-agency consultations when federal government actions could jeopardize a species.
“These rules will be very protective,” said U.S. Interior Department Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, adding that the changes also will reduce the “conflict and uncertainty” associated with many protected species.
Such conflicts have been numerous in the decades since the act’s 1973 passage, ranging from disruptions to logging to protect spotted owls to attacks on livestock that have accompanied the restoration of grey wolves in the Rocky Mountains and upper Midwest.
Democrats decry potential environmental impact
Wildlife advocates and Democrats said such moves would speed extinctions in the name of furthering the administration’s anti-environment agenda.
Species currently under consideration for protections are considered especially at risk, including the North American wolverine and the monarch butterfly, they said.
In a statement, the Natural Resource Defence Council said undermining existing protections “prioritizes politics over science at the expense of our nation’s natural heritage.”
“It essentially turns every listing of a species into a negotiation,” said Noah Greenwald with the Center for Biological Diversity. “They could decide that building in a species habitat or logging in trees where birds nest doesn’t constitute harm.”
The proposals come amid longstanding criticism of the Endangered Species Act by business groups and Republicans in Congress.
Republican lawmakers are pushing legislation to enact broad changes to the Endangered Species Act, saying it hinders economic activities while doing little to restore species.