Known for bringing the California condor and other species back from the edge of extinction, the Endangered Species Act has been revised by the Trump administration as announced by U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt on Aug. 12. The changes are meant to make the regulations less burdensome while continuing protections and recovery goals, according to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in a press release.
There are 44 endangered or threatened species in Monterey County listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, all of which will remain protected under the changes. Threatened species are defined as likely to become endangered, while endangered species risk becoming “critically endangered,” the tier before extinction in the wild.
Monterey County is home to protected species including the southern sea otter, leatherback sea turtle and San Joaquin kit fox. These species will be grandfathered into existing protections, but any future species to be considered for designation will have to wait until they are endangered to receive any help. Threatened species and endangered species will now have the same protections, according to the DOI.
Beth Brookhouser, director of community outreach at the SPCA for Monterey County, says the changes will force animals to wait until they are endangered to receive any help.
“Right now, threatened species are well protected and a lot can be done to help them from ever reaching the [endangered] category,” she says. “With this change, they would lose a lot of their protections as a threatened species and they wouldn’t get the protections until they hit the critical state.”
Brookhouser says she is concerned about newly threatened species in the future because of the changes to the Endangered Species Act.
“Our biggest concern is that species that will become threatened in the future won’t receive the same protections that they need to recover because of the changes. It would mean we would wait for the emergency to occur instead of preparing for it and preventing it from ever happening.”
At this point, Brookhouser says she is just hoping these changes will not take effect. A coalition of environmental organizations including Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association, and the Humane Society of the United States, sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Aug. 21 seeking an injunction that will block the revisions to the Endangered Species Act from taking effect.
“The new rules move the Endangered Species Act dangerously away from its grounding in sound science that has made the Act so effective—opening the door to political decisions couched as claims that threats to species are too uncertain to address,” Karimah Schoenhut, Sierra Club staff attorney, said in a press release. “In the face of the climate crisis, the result of this abandonment of responsibility will be extinction.”
Brookhouser worries that beyond weakening the Endangered Species Act, there could be a bigger movement to undo environmental protections for wildlife such as lead bullet bans and plastic bag bans. “We don’t know for sure, but it seems as if something like this could lead to that being overturned,” she says. “We’re worried about what’s happening next.”