In a "disgraceful" move that conservationists warn will amount to "a death sentence to nearly 300 threatened species," the Trump administration is attempting to kill a portion of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
"If these critical protections for threatened species are eliminated, Trump will go down in history as the extinction president."
—Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity
The Interior Department on Monday submitted a proposal to rescind the section of the law that extends all protections afforded to endangered species to those that are classified as threatened.
Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, says the Trump administration's new proposal, in enacted, "could be the end for iconic wildlife like the northern spotted owl and southern sea otter."
In addition to granting "crucial protections" to theatened species, the 1978 "blanket" 4(d) rule—which the administration is trying to rescind—and enables (pdf) the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to increase or decrease certain protections based on the needs of individual species.
The FWS says it often uses the rule "to clarify or simplify what forms of take of a threatened species are and are not prohibited."
There are 384 U.S. species—212 animals; 172 plants—currently classified as threatened, according to the FWS.
This revelation about the Trump administration's latest attack on the ESA comes as the Washington Post reports that Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke has chosen a "fierce opponent" of the law to serve as acting secretary for fish, wildlife, and parks.
Susan Combs, "a rancher and former Texas comptroller with strong ties to the oil industry," reportedly once compared proposed endangered species listings to "incoming Scud missiles," and continued to oppose the law after leaving her position in state government.
Greenwald tied the new ESA proposal to the Trump administration's other attacks on conservation efforts that serve its broader deregulatory agenda.
"This administration's assault on critical safeguards for our air, water, and wildlife," Greenwald said, "threatens to undo decades of progress towards improving the health of the environment for people and wildlife alike."
"Trump is erasing America's natural heritage to make his friends richer and allow polluters to ravage our environment," he concluded. "If these critical protections for threatened species are eliminated, Trump will go down in history as the extinction president."