Governor’s office calls weakened endangered species protections an improvement

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CASPER, Wyo. — With the United States Department of the Interior implementing changes to how the Endangered Species Act is enforced, various media outlets have referred to the decision as a “weakening” of protections.

The office of Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon says the changes are an improvement.

“The improvements are intended to restore the distinction between threatened and endangered species, provide clarity and consistency to environmental reviews, and ease regulatory burdens without sacrificing species protections,” the governor’s office said on Monday, Aug. 12.

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The Trump administration has called for a loosening of regulations, according to a Department of the Interior press release.

The changes include removing some species from the Endangered Species Act protections. While “critical habitat” designations have been used to help conserve endangered species, the Department of the Interior says utilizing such a tool is not always advisable.

“While this administration recognizes the value of critical habitat as a conservation tool, in some cases, designation of critical habitat is not prudent,” their release states.

“When designating critical habitat, the regulations reinstate the requirement that areas where threatened or endangered species are present at the time of listing be evaluated first before unoccupied areas are considered.”

“In addition, the regulations impose a heightened standard for unoccupied areas to be designated as critical habitat. On top of the existing standard that the designated unoccupied habitat is essential to the conservation of the species, it must also, at the time of designation, contain one or more of the physical or biological features essential to the species’ conservation.”

The revisions also remove what the Department of the Interior referred to as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s “blanket rule.”

“The rule had automatically given threatened species the same protections as endangered species unless otherwise specified,” the release says.

“The change impacts only future threatened species’ listings or reclassifications from endangered to threatened status and does not apply to species already listed as threatened.”

The Department of the Interior says that public comments during a review process of the changes revealed concern that there was a lack of transparency in the decision making process.

“Public transparency is critical in all government decision making, and the preamble to the regulation clarifies that the ESA does not prohibit agencies from collecting data that determine this cost and making that information available, as long as doing so does not influence the listing determination,” the release states.

Gordon says he welcomes the changes.

“’Wyoming is a leader in wildlife management and conservation with a proven track record,’” Gordon said.

“’Today’s updates to the implementing regulations of the Endangered Species Act are welcome. Wyoming has always relied on science-based decision making, and we have taken a proactive approach to the management of sensitive species in an effort to avoid the need to list them.'”

“‘These updates to the ESA will further streamline processes and place an emphasis on local management. This has been an ongoing effort of several Wyoming administrations. These updates also complement the work of Senator Barrasso in improving the ESA.’”