The Trump administration published its proposal to make changes to the Endangered Species Act, a law that was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1973, but it’s too soon to tell how the changes will impact places like Douglas County.
The administration announced the changes in a press release last week and the proposed rules were published in the Federal Register on Wednesday, which will be followed by a 60-day comment period that ends on Sept. 24.
Last Thursday, the Association of O&C Counties came out in support of the proposed changes, while some wildlife advocates said the changes put already struggling animals at risk of going extinct.
One of the more contentious changes adds the phrase “as a whole” to the definition of destruction or adverse modification.
As it’s currently written, destruction or adverse modification is defined as a direct or indirect alteration that “appreciably diminishes” the value of critical habitat for the conservation of a listed species.
Nick Cady with the environmental group Cascadia Wildlands said that by adding “as a whole,” companies that want to drill, mine or log will more easily get the green light from federal agencies in critical habitat areas.
Because animal habitats are often large swaths of land, one logging operation, for example, wouldn’t have an impact on the “whole” of the species’ critical habitat.
“Even a timber sale that’s 10,000 acres is not going to have impacts across 3.5 million acres of a species range,” he said. “It essentially is going to functionally eliminate that consultation on critical habitat.”
In a press release, Douglas County Commissioner Tim Freeman said if the changes aren’t applied to past listings and critical habitat designations then they won’t do much good in Western Oregon.
Freeman didn’t respond to multiple calls and emails seeking additional comment.
Association of O&C Counties Executive Director Rocky McVay also could not be reached for comment.
Oregon’s endangered species— which are defined as those in danger of going extinct across most of their range — include the short-tailed albatross, Fender’s blue butterfly, Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, Borax Lake chub, tidewater goby, sockeye salmon, leatherback sea turtle, loggerhead sea turtle, lost river sucker, shortnose sucker, Tadpole shrimp and the gray wolf.
However, its often the threatened species— ones that are in danger of becoming endangered in the “foreseeable future” across most of their range— that are frequently brought up. That list includes the marbled murrelet and northern spotted owl.
The term “foreseeable future” is also one that would be defined by the changes as extending “only so far into the future as the Services can reasonably determine that the conditions potentially posing a danger of extinction in the foreseeable future are probable.”
Cady said Cascadia Wildlands was on a conference call with the Fish and Wildlife Service as it explained the proposed changes, saying they were an effort to “clarify” and “streamline” the act.
“Usually when you hear those two words from a government agency it means a massive overhaul,” Cady said.
While resource industries have long criticized the act as being bad for business, Cady said global factors are more to blame.
“The ESA has been a classic and traditional scapegoat of problems for industries that exploit natural resources in the United States,” Cady said.
He said the process is far from over.
“None of this is set in stone,” Cady said, “And I think certainly there will be litigation.”