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Changes to Endangered Species Act prompt lawsuit

Bald eagles feast on a snow goose while crows scavenge the remains at the Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Several environmental groups are suing the Trump administration over recent changes to the Endangered Species Act that they say threaten wildlife.

Earthjustice filed a lawsuit Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association and the Humane Society of the United States.

Gila trout populations have steadily increased in New Mexico since the species was listed as endangered in 1973. It is currently on the “threatened” species list. (Source: U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service)

The Department of the Interior announced rollbacks to the Endangered Species Act on Aug. 12. The changes remove a blanket rule that gave newly-listed threatened species the same protections as endangered species. As part of the rule changes, agencies must now consider economic impact when listing a species or designating critical habitat.

“This administration has a clear pattern of climate change denial and hostility to conservation,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate at WildEarth Guardians, which has its headquarters in Santa Fe. “We’re not going to let it stand. We’ll see them in court.”

In New Mexico, the ESA spurred the recovery of the bald eagle, Gila trout, gray wolf and black-footed ferret, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Wednesday’s lawsuit alleges the Interior Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to disclose negative environmental impacts of the new rules.

The lawsuit claims the administration inserted new changes into the final rules that were never subject to public comment, which “cut the American people out of the decision-making process completely.”

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said the changes would improve one of the nation’s most important environmental laws.

“The best way to uphold the Endangered Species Act is to do everything we can to ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal – recovery of our rarest species. The Act’s effectiveness rests on clear, consistent and efficient implementation,” Bernhardt said in a statement. “An effectively administered Act ensures more resources can go where they will do the most good: on-the-ground conservation.”

In the lawsuit, the groups ask for the new rules to be declared invalid and for the previous ESA rules to be reinstated.

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal. Visit reportforamerica.org to learn about the effort to place journalists in local newsrooms around the country.

 

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