Trump administration continues to improve endangered species conservation
The Trump administration has recovered more species from the endangered and threatened species list than any previous administration in their first term. That’s right, even more than the Obama administration did in its first term.
You won’t find that fact covered by the mainstream media or lauded by the radicalized advocacy groups. No one sells newspapers or generates great fundraising dollars by recognizing the fact that the Trump administration is outpacing other administrations when it comes to endangered species conservation and recovery. The fact is that the Trump administration remains committed to carrying out its obligation of species protection, while eliminating unnecessary burdens that have needlessly exacerbated conflict and delayed species recovery.
In 1978, the United States Congress took strong action to amend the Endangered Species Act to reduce the conflict caused between our economic wellbeing and the natural environment. In its revisions, Congress granted the secretary of the Interior the ability to balance the economic, national security, and other relevant impacts that might be caused by the designation of an area as a critical habitat with the benefit provided to the listed species. In doing so, Congress established that when balancing these factors, as long as the exclusion of a particular area from critical habitat designation won’t result in the species’ extinction, an area may be excluded.
Congress thought this flexibility would allow the executive branch to make more thoughtful and balanced decisions and eliminate unnecessary conflict. Regrettably, since that time, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has inconsistently used the authority Congress gave it. In 2018, in Weyerhaeuser Co. v. USFWS, a case involving whether the Service had properly designated critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog, the United States Supreme Court squarely brought this failure to the forefront. As a result, in line with the Court’s decision, the Trump administration recently published proposed regulations to clarify when and how this authority will be used and is seeking the public’s comment through Oct. 8.
To ensure transparency, the proposed regulations would require that all decisions for critical habitat, as well as any exclusions, be made in the light of day, and that decision makers consider input from state, local, and tribal governments, in addition to any interested member of the public, including private landowners and those federal and public land users who are directly impacted by the proposed critical habitat designations.
The proposed rule would require a common-sense balancing of the benefits of including areas as critical habitat (such as ecosystem services, conservation, and some types of outdoor recreation) with the benefits of excluding areas from critical habitat (such as economic impacts, including impacts to community projects, employment, and property values, and environmental harms). Environmental harms include increased risk for catastrophic wildfires, such as those taking place in the West right now, that destroy habitat and communities alike, often resulting in the tragic loss of life.
Again, consistent with the law, the proposed regulations would require that any proposed exclusion of critical habitat does not cause extinction of the species, and all of these analyses will be in full view of the American public.
President Trump is succeeding at protecting both the environment and the American public’s ability to ensure that those federal decisions impacting our daily lives are based on common sense. Something Congress actually expected to happen more than 40 years ago.
David L. Bernhardt is the 53rd secretary of the Interior.
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