Trump Aims to Clarify Rules for Protecting Endangered Species

Lawmakers who passed the Endangered Species Act four decades ago inserted a “degree of ambiguity” in key terms that led to most legal controversies surrounding enforcement of the law, the Interior Department’s No. 2 official said in a presentation at The Heritage Foundation.

To resolve such questions, Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said, the Interior Department joined with other agencies to propose changes aimed at providing “clarity and predictability” to regulations covering endangered or threatened wildlife.

“We are intent on maintaining our environmental standards, but we are equally intent on leaving a reliable, efficient, and defensible regulatory regime in place that better serves the American people than what we found when we walked into the department, and I’m confident that we’ll be able to do this,” Bernhardt said in his speech Monday.

Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service teamed with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service on overhauling the regulations.

The Trump administration announced proposed revisions in July that primarily address two sections of the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

One of them, Section 4, involves procedures for listing species, recovering species, and designating critical habitat, the term for areas identified as essential to conserving a species. The other, Section 7, covers consultation among federal agencies to make certain no actions undermine endangered or threatened species or hurt critical habitat.

The Trump administration proposes to revert to an earlier practice of considering areas occupied by a species before examining other areas. The proposed revisions are meant to clarify when the unoccupied areas are essential for conservation.

Designating critical habitats isn’t always prudent, federal officials say, so the administration proposes a “nonexhaustive list of circumstances” where that action may not apply, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service press release.

Interagency consultation “is a place where the rubber really hits the road in the implementation of the Endangered Species Act,” Bernhardt told his Heritage Foundation audience at the think tank’s headquarters on Capitol Hill.

Throughout his talk, the deputy interior secretary used a Venn diagram with three overlapping circles to illustrate three key factors in implementing and enforcing the law.

A green circle represented the law’s “legal framework,” a yellow circle included facts and data, and a red circle represented decision-making where department officials have some discretion.

Photo: Paul Hennessy/Polariis/Newscom