Thurs 9/4 – The Trump administration is trying to kill off endangered species again. Deadline for comment tonight 11:59 EST

Either he’s still holding a grudge over this eagle or he’s owned by extractive industries, our president and his administration have been working fulltime to destroy the environment, wildlife, and the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  

Today’s action involves Trump’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who are targeting critical wildlife habitats with a deceptive and unresearched definition of “habitat” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). If finalized, it will be much more difficult to protect habitat critical for the survival and recovery of endangered species.

Let’s talk about how to comment on their proposed definition.

  • First, you write your comment here.
  • The proposed regulation is here. It is purposely hard to understand.
  • There are 47,880 comments already and you can read them for inspiration here. You can read about 5 of them before you realize…
  • …that about 47,870 of them are this exact one below, which means that, after they remove ALL THE COPIES, there will be about (11) original comments left.

The Endangered Species Act is one of our nation’s most successful laws. In its current state, it has been more than 99 percent successful at stopping extinction. It is supported by a bipartisan majority and has been an economic driver by supporting recovery of species that support non-consumptive recreation.

I am writing to oppose the proposed changes to the way habitat is designated and protected. The existing habitat protections have been crucial to the recovery of species that rely upon safe and undisturbed habitat. 

Protecting habitat for endangered species allows for the recovery of those species and supports ecosystem services. It is good for wildlife and for communities. 

I hope that you will reconsider this proposed change and thank you for considering my perspective.

The NRDC has come out with a petition, with a pre-written letter people can sign here. So there should end up being thousands of these to cull out as well, so we’ll end up with maybe 12 original-sounding comments.

Dear U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

I am deeply disappointed by your proposed plans to further weaken the Endangered Species Act by making it harder to protect habitat for wildlife.

Your proposal would make it much more difficult to protect habitats that have been historically used by a species as well as habitats that could be important as species move in response to climate change. And it would make it easier for the drilling, mining, and logging industries to destroy fragile wildlife habitats and drive our most threatened species to the brink of extinction.

The ESA is a bedrock law that has saved 99 percent of listed plants and animals from extinction, including iconic species like the bald eagle and gray wolf. If endangered species are going to recover, we must protect and restore the places they used to live, pay attention to the climate science, and do more to strengthen, not weaken, our nation’s best tool for helping to prevent extinction.

That’s why I vehemently OPPOSE this proposal and urge you to withdraw this reckless plan to further eviscerate the Endangered Species Act’s protections.

Thank you. “

We’ve all taken creative writing, right? Mix and match and make this comment sound like you. You can also take from the sources we’re listing below.

Deeper Dive

Why are we here? Because of a frog. There was a lawsuit by Weyerhaeuser Timber Company…over the survival of one highly endangered amphibian – the dusky gopher frog, to be exact and 1500 acres of private land. As part of a 2018 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, the USFW Service needed to define the term “habitat” in relation to this creature.

(biologicaldiversity.org) “The frog survives in one ephemeral pond in Mississippi. Recognizing that to secure the frog would require recovering it in additional areas, the Service designated an area in Louisiana that had the ephemeral ponds the frog requires. However, this area would need forest restoration to provide high-quality habitat.

Weyerhaeuser Timber Company, the landowner, and Pacific Legal Foundation, a private-property advocacy group, challenged the designation, resulting in today’s definition and the frog losing habitat protection in Louisiana.

So, our much obliging Department of the Interior came up with two options – both unscientifically-reviewed for effect with both deemed to potentially exclude areas that species could use in the future.

#1: The physical places that individuals of a species depend upon to carry out one or more life processes. Habitat includes areas with existing attributes that have the capacity to support individuals of the species.

#2: The physical places that individuals of a species use to carry out one or more life processes. Habitat includes areas where individuals of the species do not presently exist but have the capacity to support such individuals, only where the necessary attributes to support the species presently exist.

Defenders of Wildlife proposed their own defintion here. (Their entire letter here)

We recommend a definition that reflects the best available science, is consistent with the intent of the ESA, and is broad enough to account for species’ needs:

“Habitat” is the area or type of site where a species naturally occurs or depends on directly or indirectly to carry out its life processes, or where a species formerly occurred or has the potential to occur and carry out its life processes in the foreseeable future.

This definition is consistent with habitat definitions from the scientific literature, and it accommodates existing regulatory definitions and key concepts essential to implementing the ESA. It is separate from but complimentary to the ESA’s definition of “critical habitat.” The proposed definition has the following features:

  • It is centered on identifying areas of interest that can be mapped, not just a list of associations of factors a species needs, such as temperature regimes (i.e., more than just a list of the “physical and biological features”).
  • The proposed definition accounts for areas of currently occupied or unoccupied habitat, consistentwith the definition of critical habitat in the ESA.
  • It recognizes that because of material and energy flows in real ecosystems, areas that indirectly
  • It includes a temporal component. Definitions of habitat in the literature do not include a temporal restriction, but critical habitat must be considered at least to the horizon of the foreseeable future because these areas are “essential to the conservation of the species,” that is, to recovery. The proposed definition admits the temporal component by allowing for “the potential to occur.”

As the Supreme Court noted, “‘critical habitat’ is the subset of ‘habitat’ that is ‘critical’ to the conservation of an endangered species.” 139 S. Ct. at 368. Our proposed definition of “habitat” is broad enough to encompass areas where a species currently lives, areas that species depend upon for portions of their lifecycle, areas that could presently support reintroduction, areas that could reasonably be restored or could be expected to support range expansion in the future, and places that provide essential nutrients or services to such areas. This gives the Service the flexibility needed to determine specifically what portions of a species’ range (current, historic, or potential) are in fact “critical” and require designation as critical habitat.

More good commentary from them here.

Commentary

Here’s a bunch of stuff to use as inspiration as well.

(The Hill) “When species are endangered, the ESA requires the government to set aside habitat deemed critical for its recovery. But environmental groups say the new definition being proposed by FWS will allow the agency to block setting aside any land that isn’t currently habitat but might be needed in the future, particularly as the climate changes.

“It sounds kind of innocuous,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, “But what this essentially says is if an area is degraded, if it can no longer support endangered species without restoration, then it couldn’t be protected.”

Take the northern spotted owl, an endangered species that nests in old-growth forest. Its protected habitat includes millions of acres of new-growth forest that are not in use by the owls currently, but could be as they age.

“The purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to help endangered species flourish and expand back into their former habitats. If this rule were in place fifty years ago, the bald eagle would have been kept at death’s door in perpetuity, limited to a few square miles here and there. If this administration can’t tell the difference between where an endangered species lives today and where it would live if it were no longer endangered, it has no business rewriting this or any other law,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.)

The proposal from FWS stems from a 2018 Supreme Court ruling challenging habitat for the dusky gopher frog.

“The court’s ruling provides the Trump Administration and [Interior] Secretary [David] Bernhardt the opportunity to create a new definition that will help ensure that all areas considered for critical habitat first and foremost meet the definition of habitat. We are proposing these changes on behalf of improved conservation and transparency in our processes for designating critical habitat,” FWS Director Aurelia Skipwith said in a release obtained by The Hill.

Habitat set aside for the frog, which includes pine forests, was challenged by Weyerhaeuser Co., a large logging company. Greenwald said the area set aside for the frog’s recovery otherwise had the unique elements, including ephemeral ponds, needed by the species.

But he sees longer-term impacts if the proposed language is adopted, particularly as climate change wipes out existing habitat and transforms the landscape.  “Take species threatened by sea level rise created by climate change. Areas they need for survival and recovery in the future may not be habitat right now,” Greenwald said, pointing to coastal wetlands used by birds and other species that will gradually migrate. 

“But this rule will totally preclude that.”

(OPB.org) “Legal observers said the two-sentence definition, as well as an alternative definition that officials invited comments on, would limit what areas the government can designate as critical to a species’ survival.

This is inevitably going to restrict the agency and force it to work where it can do the most good,” said Jonathan Woods with the Pacific Legal Foundation, which has fought against government habitat designations that the firm says infringe on private property rights.”

Others warned that it would seriously hobble restoration efforts, by confining struggling species to small patches of pristine land and blocking restoration work that could expand their range. The northern spotted owl of the Pacific Northwest, which depends on old-growth forests, offers a prime example, said Noah Greenwald with the Center for Biological Diversity. Much of the bird’s historic habitat was logged. “But it will become old growth forest again one day if we protect it. So does that not count as habitat?” Greenwald asked.

(wsls.com) “A final decision is expected by year’s end, with broad implications for how lands are managed and how far the government must go in protecting plants and animals that could be sliding toward extinction.

Democratic lawmakers and wildlife advocates said the proposal ignores shifting threats to wildlife and plants due to climate change and habitat loss. It follows other steps under Trump to scale back or alter endangered species rules, including lifting blanket protections for animals newly listed as threatened and setting cost estimates for saving species.

Legal observers said the Republican administration’s two-sentence definition of habitat would limit what areas the government can designate as critical to a species’ survival.  Its declaration that habitat includes areas with “existing attributes” appears to rule out land or water needing restoration work or sites that could become suitable in the future as climate change forces species to relocate, said J.B. Ruhl with Vanderbilt University Law School.

“To me, they are clearly trying to rule out restoration and climate change,” Ruhl said.  He added that a court would likely agree that the government’s definition was reasonable, even though he does not think it is good policy for dealing with climate change.

Jonathan Wood with the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represents landowners opposed to having species protections forced upon them, said the government’s proposal would rightly restrict what areas could be designated as habitat.  He said that would force the government to concentrate on sites more suitable for conservation work, instead of infringing on private property rights.

Others warned that it would seriously hobble restoration efforts, by confining struggling species to small patches of pristine land and blocking restoration work that could expand their range.”

(biologicaldiversity.org) “WASHINGTON— The Trump administration issued a new proposal today that will severely limit the government’s ability to protect habitat that imperiled animals and plants will need to survive and recover. The proposal, the latest in its attempt to weaken the Endangered Species Act, focuses on a crucial aspect of the law that protects “critical habitat” for threatened and endangered species. The new proposal limits protections to habitat that could currently support the species — but not areas that could be restored or safeguarded to provide additional habitat for future recovery. That would preclude protecting habitat that had been historically used by a species as well as habitat that could be important as species move in response to threats such as climate change.

“The Trump administration won’t be satisfied until it removes all protections for the natural world, including clean air and water, land, and now even habitat for our most vulnerable wildlife,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If endangered species are going to recover, we have to protect and restore places they used to live.”

…The definition proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today limits habitat to the “areas with existing attributes that have the capacity to support individuals of the species,” clearly limiting it to only those places that could support a species now. Most endangered species, however, have lost extensive areas of their historic range to habitat loss and fragmentation and thus need habitat restoration to recover.

You simply can’t save species without protecting the places where they live and raise families,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s appalling to see the Trump administration slashing away at habitat protections. This will have real life-and-death consequences for some of our nation’s most vulnerable species.”

The definition will also preclude protecting places plants and animals will need as their habitat moves in response to climate change. The eastern black rail, for example, is proposed for threatened status and lives in coastal wetlands that are likely to be flooded by climate change-driven sea-level rise. This rule will preclude designating and protecting inland areas the rail will need in the future.

The rule may also result in the likely loss of habitat protections for the northern spotted owl. Right now more than 9 million acres of critical habitat are protected for the owl, including many areas that don’t currently support the old-growth forests the species needs to survive, but will in the future. Under a settlement with the timber industry, the Trump administration is expected to issue a revised designation soon. If the new definition is followed in the rule, the owl is likely to lose many of those protected acres.

(nwf.org) WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposed definition for “habitat” under the Endangered Species Act falls short and fails to fully address climate change and the challenges facing wildlife today. The National Wildlife Federation urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to revisit its proposed definition and better account for climate change, habitat fragmentation, and other challenges.

“American’s wildlife are in crisis with nearly one-third of all species at heightened risk of extinction. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s new definition falls short in failing to account for the challenges facing species, including climate change, habitat fragmentation and a lack of habitat connectivity,” said Laura Daniel Davis, chief of policy and advocacy at the National Wildlife Federation. “The agency clearly needs to rethink its approach to ensure it is applying the Endangered Species Act — our last line of defense for pulling species back from the brink — in a way that protects and conserves threatened and endangered wildlife from all of the serious threats they face.”

The Original Law.

§ 424.02 Definitions.

Conserve, conserving, and conservation. To use and the use of all methods and procedures that are necessary to bring any endangered or threatened species to the point at which the measures provided pursuant to the Act are no longer necessary, i.e., the species is recovered in accordance with § 402.02 of this chapter. Such methods and procedures include, but are not limited to, all activities associated with scientific resources management such as research, census, law enforcement, habitat acquisition and maintenance, propagation, live trapping, and transplantation, and, in the extraordinary case where population pressures within a given ecosystem cannot be otherwise relieved, may include regulated taking.

Geographical area occupied by the species. An area that may generally be delineated around species‘ occurrences, as determined by the Secretary (i.e., range). Such areas may include those areas used throughout all or part of the species‘ life cycle, even if not used on a regular basis (e.g., migratory corridors, seasonal habitats, and habitats used periodically, but not solely by vagrant individuals).

Physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the species. The features that occur in specific areas and that are essential to support the life-history needs of the species, including but not limited to, water characteristics, soil type, geological features, sites, prey, vegetation, symbiotic  species, or other features. A feature may be a single habitat characteristic, or a more complex combination of habitat characteristics. Features may include habitat characteristics that support ephemeral or dynamic habitat conditions. Features may also be expressed in terms relating to principles of conservation biology, such as patch size, distribution distances, and connectivity.

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