There are 86 Texas plants and animals that are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. Since its passage in 1973, the law has been a bulwark against extinction; thousands of plants and animals in the U.S. are on the endangered species list. But that could soon change: The Trump administration announced on Monday that it’s implementing rule changes to make the law friendlier to businesses, among other things.
Brooke Wahlberg is an Austin-based environmental lawyer, and says the rule change will “streamline” how the law is used.
“One was to Section 4, which is what dictates what’s on the list and what areas can be designated as critical habitats. There was also a change to how species, determined as ‘threatened,’ how those will be treated,” Wahlberg says.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has put some species on the endangered list based on the future threat to their habitats. That includes animals like wolverines and bearded seals, Wahlberg says.
“They use complex modeling about the different changes in habitat that those species would be dependent on to provide the basis for the listing,” Wahlberg says.
But the Trump administration wants to change how “foreseeable” is interpreted in the law. It wants to raise the standards required to show that an animal’s habitat will most likely be affected by climate change.
“This rule says … you can’t rely on speculative modeling; it needs to have some level of reasonable certainty, best available science, and whatnot, before you can make a listing determination based on that,” Wahlberg says.
But she’s not particularly alarmed by the changes. That’s because the changes are in line with how the National Marine Fisheries Service has always interpreted the law.
“While I do think there are significant changes, I wouldn’t go so far to say that the Endangered Species Act has been gutted,” Wahlberg says.
Written by Caroline Covington.