New Proposals Could Significantly Weaken the Endangered Species Act

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a number of new proposals that could significantly weaken the Endangered Species Act (ESA), from a suite of bills in the U.S. House to proposed regulations by the administration. The ESA is a critical tool to protect and recover the most vulnerable birds and other wildlife in the country, and Audubon is committed to protecting this bedrock law.

Many of the key provisions put forward by the administration and in legislative proposals fail to address the needs of birds and would undermine the goal of the ESA. Some of the more concerning provisions include proposals that would remove automatic protections for species that are newly listed as “threatened,” allow publication and analyses of economic impacts instead of focusing solely on the science, and make it harder to designate unoccupied habitat as “critical habitat.” Some of the proposals in Congress would take these potential rollbacks further, by rushing delistings, limiting science based-decisions, and reducing citizen involvement.

The ESA currently protects about 100 U.S. bird species, including the Whooping Crane, Piping Plover, and Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo. The law prohibits harm to listed species, designates “critical habitat,” and initiates a recovery plan with population goals and specific management activities. The ESA has also served as an important tool for incentivizing large-scale conservation efforts, such as the case with the Greater Sage-Grouse. The ESA has helped numerous bird species recover and be delisted, such as the Brown Pelican, Bald Eagle, and Peregrine Falcon, and has set many other species on the path to recovery.

Instead of weakening protections, Congress and the administration should provide more resources for species recovery, including for habitat conservation, and deploy these measures as early as possible. By the time many species are listed, their populations have fallen dramatically, making it much more difficult to maintain and increase their numbers. The most effective species conservation strategy is to prevent the conditions that lead to the need for ESA protections by funding and supporting proactive conservation. While there are opportunities to simplify implementation practices that could result in better and faster conservation outcomes, too many of these proposals would only put birds at greater risk.

The Endangered Species Act is a lifeline for birds, and is far too important to allow its vital protections to be chipped away. We are working to ensure it continues to provide science-based decision-making, incentives for collaboration on proactive conservation, and robust protections for imperiled species and the places they need to survive.

Currently, the administrative proposals are in a 60-day comment period, ending in late September, and the new House bills have not yet had a hearing, meaning there is still time to act. Audubon will provide opportunities to comment on the new regulations, but in the meantime please ask Congress to uphold the ESA and defend against any efforts that would undermine protections for birds and other wildlife.