WASHINGTON — Three months after a U.N. report warned that 1 million species face extinction due to human activity, the Trump administration on Monday finalized rule changes to the Endangered Species Act that make it harder to protect plants and animals whose populations are in serious decline.
The rules were changed as part of President Donald Trump’s mandate to scale back government regulations on behalf of businesses. In that vein, language in the act that required officials to rely heavily on science when considering to list a species as threatened or endangered regardless of economic impact was removed.
Potential threats to business opportunities and other costs of listing a species must now be considered and shared with the public. Officials said those considerations would not affect listing decisions.
The administration will also shrink the number of habitats set aside for threatened wildlife. Currently, land that plants and animals occupy is set aside for their protection, in addition to areas they once occupied but abandoned.
For the threatened species, unoccupied habitat might not be protected, opening it up for oil and gas exploration or other forms of development.
Conservationists and some politicians decried the changes as a major rollback of the 46-year-old law credited with saving the bald eagle, grizzly bear, humpback whale, American alligator and Florida manatee from extinction.
“Today, the Trump administration issued regulations that take a wrecking ball to one of our oldest and most effective environmental laws, the Endangered Species Act,” Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, said in a statement. “As we have seen time and time again, no environmental protection — no matter how effective or popular — is safe from this administration.”
In May, a U.N. report on world biodiversity found that 1 million plant and animal species are on the verge of extinction, with alarming implications for human survival.
The report, written by seven experts from universities across the world, directly linked the loss of species to human activity and showed how those losses are undermining food and water security, along with human health.
More plants and animals are threatened with extinction now than at any other period in human history, the report said.