U.S. proposes roll back of endangered species protections

The Endangered Species Act is credited with saving dozens of key species from extinction including bald eagles

In the early 1970s, there were fewer than 800 bald eagle pairs in the lower 48 states of the US.

One particular species threatened by the plan is the monarch butterfly, which is now under consideration for protection through the Endangered Species Act.

A number of conflicts have arisen in the decades since the 1973 passage of the Endangered Species Act, ranging from disruptions to logging to protect spotted owls in the Pacific Northwest, to attacks on livestock that have accompanied the restoration of gray wolves in the Rocky Mountains and upper Midwest.

The law, enacted in the 1970s, has always been a source of frustration for drillers, miners and other businesses.

The Defense Department says in a position paper that the measure inserted into the policy bill is unnecessary.

But conservation groups were quick to criticize the proposed move, labeling it a handout to big businesses that would ruin crucial animal protections.

A proposal unveiled Thursday would no longer grant threatened species the same instant protection given to endangered species.

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Endangered species are now defined as "in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range", while threatened species are likely to become in danger of extinction within the "foreseeable future".

While the law is opposed by many in the logging, mining, farming and oil-drilling industries, environmentalists say they consider it sacrosanct and say changes planned by the Trump administration will likely bring lawsuits.

"Unfortunately, the sweeping changes being proposed by the Trump administration include provisions that would undercut the effectiveness of the ESA and put species at risk of extinction", Clark said.

"It essentially turns every listing of a species into a negotiation", Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity told NBC. Critical habitat is a specific geographic area, whether occupied by the species or not, determined to be essential for the conservation and management of the listed plant or animal.

"These rules will be very protective and enhance the conservation of the species", Interior Department Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt said on a conference call with reporters about the changes.

"We hope these proposals ameliorate some of the burdens, conflict and uncertainty within our current regulatory structure", Bernhardt said.

"Rather than shooting holes in a law that works, Secretary Zinke and the Trump Administration should seek to improve the law's implementation by asking Congress to fully fund recovery efforts for endangered species". According to the Interior Department, it will "make it clear that it extends only as far as they can reasonably determine that both the future threats and the species' response to those threats are probable".

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