Thin Ice


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Return To Game. World All Time Top Plans for oil and gas development in the Arctic heighten the risk of oil spills and increases in noise pollution and harassment from ships and aircraft.

Confusion about their numbers aside, everyone agrees that populations have been steadily declining. The marine mammal was first nominated for inclusion on the endangered species list back in FWS was required to make a final listing decision by The lawsuit is still pending.

The very law that conservationists hope will help protect this animal, as well as many other species that are in peril — the ESA — is skating on thin ice, with its powers increasingly challenged by an administration that has little patience for laws and regulations that help protect our lands and wildlife. The Act authorizes federal agencies to identify at-risk species and list them as either threatened or endangered, and requires them to take necessary actions to conserve those species and their habitats. Once a species gets placed on the endangered species list, federal laws restrict killing and harassing survivors or destroying their habitat.

At-risk species in other countries can also be protected by the ESA through the prohibition or regulation of trade in live animals or their parts and products.

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The ESA currently protects more than 1, native plant and animal species in the US and its territories, and foreign ones like chimpanzees and African elephants as well. These include iconic creatures like the grizzly bear, humpback whale, and gray wolf, and lesser known critters like the piping plover, black-footed ferret, and Miami blue butterfly. And it has helped put hundreds more plants and animals on the road to recovery. Despite these successes, the ESA has always had a fair share of detractors — typically oil and gas execs, big ag companies, ranchers, landowners, and those opposed to federal oversight — largely because of the restrictions it places on land and water use.

These critics say the law is overly cumbersome, hinders business and economic growth, and unduly burdens landowners whose property happens to fall within the habitat of a designated endangered species. Over the years, there have been many legislative attempts, usually backed by industry interests, to restrict what the Act can and cannot do.

According to the CBD, which has been keeping a running tally of these congressional bills, since there have been more than pieces of legislation introduced seeking to dismantle critical species protections. These bills include proposals to prematurely strip federal protections from specific species such as the sage grouse and African elephant, to underplay the role of science in listing decisions, and to prioritize the role of states instead of federal wildlife experts when it comes to implementing the Act.

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Often, these proposals are tacked on as riders to must-pass spending bills, such as the budget rider that removed protections from gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains. The majority of the bills, more than , were introduced since , when Republicans took control of the House of Representatives. Under the Trump administration, efforts to undermine the ESA have, unsurprisingly, escalated further.

In just the two years since Trump was sworn in as president, at least 80 bills seeking to undermine the ESA or remove species from the list have been introduced in Congress.

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If the proposal goes through, it would become more difficult to add a new species, like the Pacific Walrus, to the list. Environmentalists fear that the changes would also make it easier to delist species because their habitats are desirable to industry. The revisions are scheduled to be finalized this spring, though the federal government shutdown may delay the process.

Those currently directing the FWS are hardly known for their dedication to protecting needy fauna and flora, and are the ones leading the efforts to undermine the ESA from within, environmentalists say.


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The ESA requires federal agencies to work with states, businesses, and private landowners to find science-based, voluntary conservation agreements that address the needs of the stakeholders in question as well as the plant or animal of concern. One such collaborative effort is the reintroduction of the black-footed ferret to the Northern Great Plains.

Over the past three decades, the FWS has worked with many state and federal agencies, zoos, Native American tribes, conservation groups, and at least 18 individual landowners to reintroduce the species, once feared to have gone extinct and listed as endangered under the ESA, back to its natural habitat.

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Those efforts have helped restore the black-footed ferret population to nearly animals, giving it a fighting chance of survival. What these critics fail to understand is that it is easier to prevent a species from disappearing than to restore it to previous levels or back to a level where it plays a significant role in an ecosystem, says Huta of the Endangered Species Coalition. A population can disappear quickly or gradually, but it takes many generations to build it back up.

It took the bird of prey, among the first species to be listed under the ESA, more than 30 years to rebound enough to warrant delisting in What does get delayed inordinately though, is the listing of hundreds of species that need protection at a time one-in-five animal and plant species in the US is threatened with extinction and the rate of species extinction worldwide is 1, times greater than it would be naturally.

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Legally speaking, agencies have to evaluate a petition to protect a species within 90 days, and in special cases have at most a year to determine whether to list it. But right now there are more than species waiting for consideration, some of which, like the American wolverine, lesser prairie chicken, and the Hermes copper butterfly, have been waiting for more than 20 years and might never recover.

While the FWS and NMFS do sometimes identify and list species on their own, nearly 80 percent of species on the endangered list have been included following petitions or suits by citizens or conservation groups.

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