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Public Comment on Proposals to Improve the Endangered Species Act

PERC weighs in on efforts to "improve and modernize" the Endangered Species Act

The northern sea otter is listed as a federally threatened species. © Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith

On July 19, 2018, the Department of the Interior announced a proposal to “improve and modernize” the Endangered Species Act. The changes, which would alter the way the Fish and Wildlife Service lists certain species and designates critical habitat, could help promote cooperation over conflict in recovering endangered and threatened species.

PERC is weighing in on the potential reforms with two public comments.

One proposal by the Fish and Wildlife Service is to revise the regulations that extend most of the prohibitions for activities involving endangered species to threatened species. By lifting the blanket “take” prohibitions on threatened species, states and landowners would be encouraged to recover threatened species before they reach endangered status. Restoring the Endangered Species Act’s distinction between endangered and threatened species would remove barriers to projects involving threatened species, including habitat improvement projects. The result would be greater incentives for conservation and, ultimately, faster and more widespread recovery of listed species. Furthermore, because the proposed reforms will not alter the regulatory restrictions for endangered species, they will not risk the statute’s effectiveness at preventing extinctions.

Another proposal is to clarify what areas may be designated as critical habitat for protected species. While designations of critical habitat in unoccupied areas comprises a relatively small portion of all designated areas, they can be especially controversial. If designating an unoccupied area as critical habitat is not likely to yield conservation benefits, it could be more beneficial for both imperiled species and landowners for agencies to focus designations on areas likely to yield conservation benefits.

Read PERC’s comment on revising blanket “take” prohibitions for threatened species here.
Read PERC’s comment on clarifying critical habitat designations here.


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