A seemingly minor intended shift in interpretation for the Endangered Species Act could “eviscerate” protection for species listed under the Act. The change in policy, a reinterpretation of the phrase “significant portion of its range” in the Act, is scheduled to be formally announced July 1 and would change the intention of the Endangered Species Act to protect only those species which are endangered in a significant portion of their current range, rather than those endangered in a significant portion of their historic range, as is the currently accepted interpretation. This would make getting species protected under the Act much more difficult, and would delay protection until species were in extremely dire straits.
As an example, consider animals such as the American bison, which were exterminated all over the United States. Imagine that they were completely wiped out (rather than just mostly wiped out) and that the only remaining population was a small but protected herd living comfortably on an island. Under the changed Act, if this small herd was not in danger of extinction, bison would not be considered endangered in their current range, and would not enjoy protection under the Act. That they used to roam most of the United States, or that the current population was only approximately 2% of former numbers, would be meaningless.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service has long been criticized for only protecting species on the very brink of extinction, which makes recovery a difficult uphill slog,” says Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “This policy would actually codify that approach, essentially saying: Let’s only protect these creatures when they’re in as desperate a state as possible.”
The Center for Biological Diversity plans to file suit to block the new interpretation of the Act.
Read the FWS’s official post on the policy here.
Original article is available here.