New Endangered Species Act rules provide clarity and enhance species health

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Early last week, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt announced new regulations governing how the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) implements specific aspects of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). As the leading defender of conservation through regulated hunting, Safari Club International (SCI) submitted public comments when the rule change was initially proposed, and we are now excited to see that the final version remained largely consistent with the priorities for which we advocated. By empowering the FWS with clearer and more flexible criteria for delisting animal species, Secretary Bernhardt and the Trump administration have ensured that recovered animal species will no longer be ensnared by bureaucratic red tape.

Before the Department of the Interior’s adjustment, the rules concerning the delisting of animal species were more ambiguous than the rules pertaining to listing species. This irregularity allowed for courts to create higher standards for delisting, keeping recovered animal populations stuck under federal restrictions. The Western Great Lakes gray wolf, for example, had all but disappeared in the U.S by the early 20th century but now is “stable and healthy throughout its current range,” which encompasses nine states. According to the FWS, this “constitutes one of the greatest comebacks for an animal in U.S. conservation history” yet the proposal to delist them from the ESA was fought tooth and nail by a court system that seems to think it knows more about conservation than the FWS or the Department of the Interior.

Rep. Rob Bishop, the top Republican in the House Natural Resources Committee, rightfully referred to the ESA before these changes were made as a “political weapon instead of a tool to protect wildlife” that had “strayed woefully far from its original intent.” But now, under the Trump administration, the FWS will be reinvigorated with the authority to decide when a species is healthy enough for the responsibility of their management to be returned to state and local officials.

Additionally, the new regulations will remove one-size-fits-all blanket restrictions for “threatened” species and will instead charge the FWS to create special rules tailored to each individual species. While this change only applies to new listings, this critical change will ensure legal, regulated hunting can be fully utilized as a conservation tool on a species by species basis.

Even though this administration has taken steps to standardize ESA procedures, replace blanket bans with species-specific measures, and empower the wildlife experts at the FWS with more decision-making authority, many extremist environmentalists reacted with overblown rhetoric, immediately attacking these new regulations as facilitators for a “mass species extinction.” As such, these rules will likely be challenged in court. In light of the disinformation campaigns these parties are already waging, SCI is even more appreciative of Secretary Bernhardt and the Trump administration for their commitment to clearer, more effective species recovery through the ESA.

W. Laird Hamberlin is CEO of Safari Club International.

Tags Endangered Species Act Rob Bishop

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