The Trump administration’s proposed overhaul of threatened wildlife protections would not impact the 300 species currently listed, though it would drastically change how future species are handled, according to an internal Fish and Wildlife Service document.
The draft proposal, obtained on Thursday by CNN, outlines how the administration seeks to change the protections for animals and plants the government determines in the future are at risk of becoming endangered. Instead of applying general protections for threatened species, the new rule would tailor guidelines for each individual animal or plant life – a change that concerns conservation advocates, who believe it will lead to an even longer backlog.
The draft rule also revealed the administration plans to propose two other rule changes related to the Endangered Species Act. It did not specify the nature of those forthcoming proposals.
A spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service declined to comment on the document or future proposals.
“It is premature to discuss a rule that has not been completed and is subject to change while under interagency review,” spokesman Gavin Shire told CNN.
The draft rule, which CNN reported Thursday morning, would revise how the agency treats species considered at risk of endangerment under the Endangered Species Act. For four decades, the Fish and Wildlife Service has either developed specific protections for a newly-listed species, or applies a set of standard protections known as the blanket rule.
The Trump administration proposal says the agency in the future will no longer apply the blanket rule when listing a species.
“Species listed as a threatened species after the effective date of this rule, if finalized, would have protective regulations only if the (Fish and Wildlife) Service promulgates a species-specific rule,” the proposal reads.
The proposal does not call for removing blanket rule protections previously given.
“The protective regulations that currently apply to threatened species would not change, unless the Service adopts a species-specific rule in the future,” the proposal says.
The proposal notes the administration believes the blanket rule approach to be legal, but that it believes the government can better protect at-risk animals and plants by developing specific rules. It also notes another government agency with oversight over endangered and threatened species, the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service, does not use a blanket rule.
Conservation advocates noted the process of listing a species can already take upwards of a decade, and noted developing species-specific protections could lengthen that process.
“It’s already a process that is just painfully slow for species to gain protection,” said Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Adding this complexity where they have to define what activities to prohibit would further slow it down.”
The top Democrat on the Senate committee overseeing science and marine wildlife said the proposal would “roll back … critical safeguards.”
“Once again, (Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke) is trying to pull a fast one,” said Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida. “Now he’s trying to weaken rules that protect animals and plants. My state of Florida already has more than 100 threatened and endangered species, including the manatee.”
The government has listed 14 species as threatened or endangered since President Donald Trump took office last year. The most recent listing was added Thursday: the Louisiana pinesnake.