FoA steps in to protect definition of habitat for endangered species

It may seem like a good step to define habitat when addressing the needs of endangered and threatened species but in actuality, the Trump Administration’s definition will hurt efforts to protect them and is yet another example of its efforts to dismantle the Endangered Species Act.

In recent comments filed with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, Friend of Animals said the proposal by the agencies seeks to further weaken the ESA and would result in limiting the ability for species to recover after a determination has already been made that the species is in peril.

“It appears that, through this rulemaking, FWS is merely attempting to effectively redefine ‘critical habitat’ by including an extremely narrow regulatory definition of ‘habitat’ in order to further restrict what areas would be considered ‘critical’ to the survival of endangered or threatened species,’’ FoA said in its comments filed by its Wildlife Law Program. “A broad regulatory definition of ‘habitat’ should expressly state that a species’ habitat may include areas outside the geographic area presently occupied by the species, and it should encompass areas that may need to be improved or modified to effectively provide a suitable environment or home for the species.”

For more than 45 years, the ESA has protected thousands of threatened species, including the bald eagle, California condor, grizzly bear and humpback whale. More than 99% of plants and animals listed under the act survive today. The law is important as a bulwark against the current extinction crisis; plants and animals are disappearing at a rate much higher than the natural rate of extinction due to human activities.

Scientists estimate that 227 species would have gone extinct if not for ESA listings. Listing species with a global distribution can protect the species domestically and help the U.S. focus its resources toward enforcement of international regulation and recovery of the species.

FoA has succeeded in placing a myriad of species under ESA protections including the scalloped hammerhead shark, five species of sturgeon as well as three parrot species. In 2017, FoA intervened and reversed a court decision that sought to strip the Utah prairie dog of federal protection under the ESA. FoA is also working to obtain or enhance ESA protections for queen conch, African elephants and giraffes among other species..

But in recent years, the Trump Administration has sought to gut ESA by weakening key provisions, including stepping back from longstanding, conservation-based agency policy of providing the same level of protection to threatened species afforded to endangered species, which is necessary to prevent a species from becoming endangered. The Trump Administrations has further sought to weaken the ESA by allowing for economic interests to be considered during listing decisions..

FoA will continue to fight against every effort to strip the ESA of its important provisions.

“We have seen an unrelenting attack by the Trump administration against wildlife and we will not let it unravel the ESA with targeted cuts to its key provisions,’’ said FoA President Priscilla Feral. “The administration has put economic interests above all else, but at what cost? Are we willing to wipe out species to plunder the land and their ecosystems for corporate interests at a time when species extinction is at a crisis level? We will oppose this at every step.”

“The ESA is the only hope we currently have of preventing what some believe may be a complete collapse of global biodiversity by the end of this century,” said Michael Harris, director of FoA’s Wildlife Law Program.

To read more about FoA’s work to protect endangered and threatened species, click here.