The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published final rules that significantly weaken the implementation of the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). These changes include the rescission of the USFWS’ blanket 4(d) rule that immediately provides critical protections to species when they are listed as “threatened,” including immediate prohibitions on the killing of or trade in a species.

Future listings of species as “threatened” will no longer receive these protections without another federal action. This will significantly reduce the immediate benefits of listing a species as threatened.

Eliminating the blanket 4(d) rule would create a substantial—and unnecessary—burden on FWS to promulgate a species-specific 4(d) rule for every species covered by the ESA under its jurisdiction that is listed as threatened or downlisted from endangered.

The ESA requires that listing decisions be based solely on the best scientific and commercial data available. The new rules undermine that requirement, by allowing the analysis of economic impacts of a potential listing to be collected and released with the listing decisions—even though the law prohibits its consideration in the decision—undermining the law and the clear intent of Congress.

These changes will prevent effective management, with the final result putting threatened and endangered species in more peril. The ESA must continue to prioritize science-based decision making.

WCS President and CEO Cristián Samper, said:

“For 45 years, the Endangered Species Act has been one of the most effective tools to protect and recover endangered and threatened species, and has demonstrated the United States’ leadership in saving vulnerable species and habitats. As one of the most powerful wildlife laws in the world, the ESA serves as a model for other countries to conserve their species and balance development needs that impact key wildlife habitats.

“Taken as a whole, the regulatory changes being made by the Services will weaken the ESA and hinder effective management of threatened and endangered species, and thereby also negatively impact species’ recovery. WCS urges Congress to act to reverse these new rules to ensure that the ESA continues to serve its purpose of preventing the extinction of species in need of protection.

It’s very simple: we cannot condone the dilution of the role of science in protecting endangered and threatened wildlife. By allowing the analysis of economic impacts of a potential listing to be collected and released with the listing decisions as the new rules require, the Administration is putting some wildlife in the impossible position of justifying their existence with a specific dollar value. WCS believes that heathy wildlife and wild places are the basis for sustainable economies, but we should not have to put an exact price tag on a gorilla in the Congo or an Amur tiger in the Russian Far East. WCS strongly supports existing law that states that decisions on whether to list or delist a species should be based on the best available scientific information. We are concerned that the changes will enable other considerations to influence decisions.”

WCS works on the ground on the conservation of wildlife species, many of which are listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA, including tigers, snow leopards, other Asian big cats, Asian and African elephants, African and Asian great apes—all of which are protected by the ESA. WCS also prioritizes work in the field on sharks and rays, cetaceans, and tortoises and freshwater turtles, many of which are ESA-listed as well. Finally, WCS works closely with the U.S. government, other government partners, and other stakeholders on international wildlife trade (including combating wildlife trafficking); the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is critical to these efforts, and is implemented by the U.S. government under the authority of the ESA.