Reflections on the Endangered Species Act
Last week, on August 12, 2019, the Trump administration finalized regulations that will alter the implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) – not for the better. The two implementing agencies – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) – adopted these rules despite receiving more than 871,000 public comments in opposition, including those from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
At the core of these changes are foundational shifts in policy that will hinder the already challenging prospects of species conservation.
No blanket protection of threatened species. Precaution is the ESA’s guiding principle. The law requires protections for endangered species but leaves to the agencies’ discretion on how to craft regulations necessary to protect individual threatened species. But, for nearly 40 years, the FWS has followed a precautionary policy to automatically extend the law’s full protection to all threatened species. On a case-by-case basis, the agency can, and often has, adopted a species-specific regulation to sculpt protections needed for that species while preventing unintended or unnecessary regulatory burdens.