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This week, the Trump administration adopted a new rule that narrows the definition of what qualifies as a habitat under the Endangered Species Act. The new definition only allows “critical habitat” for plants and animals at risk to be protected under the Act — meaning it only considers areas essential to their conservation and recovery and not other areas that might be suitable habitats for their survival. That’s a much smaller range than the previous definition, which took into account any space that the species lived in as well as places that it used to live in before human harm, from new roads to climate impacts.
Why This Matters: By slicing away at the places that the Endangered Species Act applies, more activities that further degrade the habitat will likely be able to proceed. Activities like agriculture, logging, and development are more likely to pass the federal approval process and move forward, causing further harm to protected species. The Act is meant to put endangered species on the road to recovery, giving them the protections and the space they need to get back to a healthy state. The new definition means that places that could support the species now or in the future can’t be considered, even if they could prevent extinction, which runs counter to the very purpose of the Act. This rollback underscores the need for a global commitment to conserve 30% of the planet by 2030 irrespective of any particular species.
New Rule Pass in the Middle of Extinction Crisis: With the climate crisis destabilizing ecosystems and shifting where animals and plants can thrive — or even survive — narrowing the scope of habitat definitions puts American wildlife at risk. A study earlier this year found that one third of animal, plant, and insect species could face extinction in the next 50 years. Endangered right whales are swimming into more dangerous waters because climate change has shifted the concentration of the tiny plankton they eat. Millions of birds now migrate earlier because of warming temperatures. Saving the wildlife in a changing climate requires a broader definition of habitat, not a narrower one.
“The new definition contradicts the purpose of the Endangered Species Act and conflicts with the purpose of critical habitat to conserve species into the future,” Jamie Rappaport Clark, the President and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement. “In the midst of a global extinction crisis, we will ask the Biden administration to right this wrong.”
by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer In the first two months of 2021, more manatees have died than in the first two months of 2020 and 2019 combined, totaling an estimated 350 animals. Despite recently passed protections for Florida’s seagrasses, a crucial part of the ecosystem that supports manatees, the sea cows are starving at higher rates and experts worry this […]
by Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer As the world warms, it’s not just people who are feeling the heat. Bats are also susceptible to extreme heat, and overheated bat boxes can be “a death trap,” the Guardian reports. In the wild, bats move between rock and tree crevices in search of a perfectly moderated temperature. […]
by Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer A new report entitled The World’s Forgotten Fishes from the World Wildlife Fund has found that there has been a “catastrophic” decline in freshwater fish, with nearly a third of all freshwater fish species coming perilously close to extinction. The statistics paint a sobering picture: 26% of all critically […]
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