Trump Administration Guts Endangered Species Act for Special Interests

Wildlife Protections Face the Chopping Block Under Trump and Bernhardt’s Reckless Reign

The Trump administration issued sweeping revisions and rollbacks of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) today, which discards long-standing precedent and regulatory safeguards for protected species. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed the new regulations, instructing Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) on how to implement these dangerous changes. 

“By gutting the ESA, the Trump administration once again proves it has no interest in protecting wildlife or America’s outdoor heritage. As a mega-lobbyist, Interior Secretary Bernhardt long sought to gut this decades-old law — one that has brought iconic species like the grizzly bear and bald eagle back from the brink of extinction — on behalf of his former special interest clients,” said Chris Saeger, Executive Director of the Western Values Project. 

Trump’s proposed plan to gut the ESA mirrored a proposal made last summer that would administratively strip important provisions within the act. The revisions seek to end certain protections for threatened species and would strike language that advised officials to set aside economic impacts when determining wildlife protections for threatened or endangered species. The revisions also change regulations for listing new species as endangered and redesignate differences between threatened and endangered species – meaning, if these revisions are implemented, it will be harder for a species to gain endangered wildlife protections. 

Ever since the Endangered Species Act was created in 1973, special interests have been trying to roll back and reconstruct this critical legislation — from drawing a sharper line between threatened and endangered species to making it harder for the FWS to list a species as endangered. 

Secretary Bernhardt has spent the majority of his career as a lobbyist and lawyer trying to weaken and undermine the law on behalf of former special interest clients. He spent nearly ten years as a strong-armed lobbyist working on ESA rollbacks and restructuring, even supporting economic considerations over wildlife protection decisions within the ESA. 

Bernhardt previously stated that the ESA places an undue burden on federal agencies. While at Interior, Bernhardt has been involved in several decisions that have undermined threatened and endangered species listings. He led the department’s efforts to rollback sage-grouse habitat protections and overturned a biological opinion regarding an endangered fish that benefited a former client just four months after his confirmation as deputy secretary. Bernhardt is currently under a multi-faceted ethics investigation related to his involvement in decisions that benefited his former clients. 

Bernhardt’s long list of recusals expired just over a week ago, making it easier for him to dole out favors – like gutting wildlife and public lands protections – to special interests and former clients.

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