The Endangered Species Act of 1793 is due to be overhauled by the US government, with changes due to take effect from mid-September.
The legislation has been in force for more than 40 years and aspires to help threatened species and prevent extinctions – it is credited with saving a number of animals, including the bald eagle, California condor, grey whale, Florida manatee and American alligator.
The changes will reduce the amount of regulations, allowing economic factors to be considered when assessing which protections will be given to vulnerable species. New rules will allow the administration to reduce the amount of habitat set aside for wildlife and remove tools that officials use to predict future harm to species as a result of climate change.
The announcement has received criticism: “A heavy regulatory burden is the point,” says US biologist Dr David Steen. “Sometimes the threat of listing a species under the Endangered Species Act is enough to inspire changes that will protect a species before the situation becomes dire, because the industry doesn’t want to deal with the regulations. Without the regulations, that incentive is gone.”
Some conservation groups and state attorneys have said these changes are illegal and are planning to challenge the changes in court.
“These changes crash a bulldozer through the Endangered Species Act’s lifesaving protections for America’s most vulnerable wildlife,” says Noah Greenwald endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “For animals like wolverines and monarch butterflies, this could be the beginning of the end.”
The Endangered Species Act was originally signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1973 and was passed unanimously in the Senate. It currently protects more than 1,600 species of plants and animals.
“We’re facing an extinction crisis, and the administration is placing industry needs above the needs of our natural heritage,” says Rebecca Riley, legal director for the Natural Resources Defense Council ’s Nature Program
Main image: Bald eagle sitting in a tree. © Jay Peterson/Getty