As if turtles and tortoises don't already have enough to worry about--predators and poachers and climate change--now they're about to be dealt a serious blow by Congress and the Trump Administration in the form of a watered-down Endangered Species Act.
The Interior Department has just announced a sweeping set of proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act, apparently designed to protect the oil, gas, mining and timber industries, at the expense of species which are, or may become, threatened or endangered.
One major proposed change is allowing economic factors to be considered when deciding whether a species needs protection. The current law expressly prohibits economic considerations as a criterion. The change could facilitate the approval of developments, roads, pipelines, etc. in areas of critical habitat. Although currently-listed endangered species would still enjoy habitat protection, the proposals would make it more difficult to add species in need of protection, as well as easier to remove those already on the protected list.
A threatened species, as defined in the Endangered Species Act, is one that is likely to become in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future, with the term “foreseeable future” open to interpretation. Proposed changes to the Act would more narrowly define this term, thus allowing the government greater leeway in downplaying the future effects of climate change.
Under the current law, species listed as Threatened (a lower level than Endangered) are afforded the same protections as those listed as Endangered. The proposed changes would rescind this blanket protection for species to be listed in future, with species-specific rules that the Interior Department says are “necessary and advisable” for conservation of the species.
At present, some 35 species of turtles and tortoises are listed as Endangered or Threatened under the Endangered Species Act, including several of the species under the protection of the Turtle Conservancy, such as the Galapagos tortoise, radiated tortoise, ploughshare tortoise, desert tortoise, Bolson tortoise, and spotted pond turtle.
The public comment period for these proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act began July 25, and runs until September 24. The Turtle Conservancy encourages you to read the proposed rules and submit your comments. The rules and information on how to submit comments can be found in the Federal Register, volume 83, number 143, online.
Separate from the Interior Department's assault on the Endangered Species Act, Congress is considering a package of bills put forth by the Congressional Western Caucus that would codify into law permanent changes to endangered species protection. On its website, the Congressional Western Caucus states that it was “born in the West, out of concerns of undue federal interference with rural, agricultural, timber, water, mining and hunting values. . .[and to] fight this federal overreach. . .”
The proposed bills, nine altogether, have enthusiastic backing from a number of organizations including the American Petroleum Institute, National Mining Association, Western Energy Alliance, National Association of Home Builders, American Loggers Council, and many more. You get the picture. The Turtle Conservancy encourages you to share your concerns with the Congressional Western Caucus, all of whom are up for re-election this November. Look on their website for the names and districts of each member.
Seeking comment from the affected parties themselves--turtles and tortoises--this reporter asked the Turtle Conservancy's Galapagos matriarch, Daphne, for her take on the planned gutting of the Endangered Species Act. Daphne hissed loudly and could be heard muttering #!&$@#%, better left untranslated for this family-friendly newsletter.