Changes to Endangered Species Act could impact Alaska wildlife
Since it became law in 1973, the Endangered Species Act has been credited with saving dozens of animals including the bald eagle. Now, the program with a 98% success rate is being overhauled at the direction of President Donald Trump.
The changes will make it easier to remove a species from the endangered list and weaken protections for threatened species.
The new rules also allow economic factors to be considered when weighing what protections should be provided. This means the government can look at the economic impact for adding a species to the list. For instance, regulators can consider the loss of revenue for protecting critical habitat in a forest that could be harvested.
These changes also make it difficult for regulators to factor habitats endangered by climate change, which affects animals like polar bears and seals. The Trump administration says this will allow the focus to be on the "rarest species," but environmentalists say the move could push more animals and plants toward extinction.
Nicole Schmitt, Director of Programs and Development at the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, says the organization feels this is extremely short-sighted and doesn't take into consideration the long-term economic and intrinsic value of endangered wildlife in Alaska.
"In Alaska, our greatest resources are our clean water, our clean air, these vast open spaces that you can't see anywhere else in the world," Schmitt said. "And these ecosystems that need to be intact to keep this whole state healthy rely, in part, on our endangered species."
As of May 2019, AWA says there are 39 species or distinct population segments of wildlife and fish in Alaska that are listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA. Among them are 15 marine mammals, a terrestrial mammal, 4 birds, 4 reptiles and 15 fish. Seven species have been designated as critical habitats to Alaska.
Some of the animals in Alaska currently protected by the ESA include Cook Inlet beluga whales, polar bears and wood bison.
Alaska Wildlife Alliance, being a grassroots organization, is taking its cause to a local and statewide level. They're also working with partners to secure and reinstate protections recently stripped from the ESA.
The changes will go into effect in mid-September. Several attorneys general across the country joined conversation groups to oppose an early draft of the changes.
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