The Trump administration has listed fewer species as threatened or endangered in its first 22 months than any other president since Ronald Reagan over the same period, according to data reviewed by Bloomberg Environment.
The candy darter, a small freshwater fish native to West Virginia, on Nov. 21 became the 15th domestic species listed by the Trump team as either threatened or endangered.
The Clinton administration listed 166 new species as endangered during the same 22-month time period at the start of his first term; the Obama administration listed 56.
Among Republican presidents, George H. W. Bush listed 70 species, and George W. Bush 22 in the same period, while Ronald Reagan had listed 12 by the midterms.
Reagan’s predecessor, Democrat Jimmy Carter, had listed 61.
“It’s terribly unfortunate, even within the constraints of concerns about economic activity,” Stuart Pimm, a professor of conservation ecology at Duke University, told Bloomberg Environment. “There’s a consistent drumbeat by this administration that conservation harms the economy. That’s complete and absolute rubbish, and it comes from an extraordinarily narrow view about what environmental activities do.”
The Endangered Species Act is intended to conserve and protect endangered and threatened species and their habitats. It was enacted in 1973, a year before President Richard Nixon resigned. No direct comparison can be made for Nixon or President Gerald Ford, who took office in 1974 and served through 1977, because the listing process took some years to get fully underway.
Listing Process to Blame?
The Trump administration says its low numbers result from time delays built into the listing process, not any deliberate effort to withhold protections.
“The number of listings in a given year is closely tied to the volume of listing petitions we receive,” Gavin Shire, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told Bloomberg Environment. “In the past, listing petitions could cover multiple—sometimes dozens—of species. Petitions are now restricted to one species each, meaning we are handling fewer total species listings requests.”
The numbers on listings by president were provided by the Center for Biological Diversity and shown to Shire. They were substantially similar to figures he provided, though the Fish and Wildlife Service data varied somewhat because it covered slightly different time periods.
Shire further said the biggest difference between now and recent years is that the Fish and Wildlife Service has completed the work required by court settlements with environmental groups WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity.
Under those settlements, the agency was required to review all species that were on a list of those already judged to merit listing in the past, but precluded “due to higher priorities,” Shire said.
“Over many years, we had amassed a considerable backlog on this list, which had to be cleared as a result of the settlements,” Shire said. Because those species had already been deemed to merit listing, any review would inevitably result in a high number of final listings—which explains the higher numbers under Obama, Shire said.
By contrast, the Trump team is now looking at new petitions, which haven’t been cleared already, and some of them are found to have no merit. That inherently results in a lower percentage of final listings, Shire said.
Running Behind on Proposals
But environmentalists said the Trump administration also isn’t proposing as many species for future protections, meaning it isn’t setting itself up to do more listings in the future.
The agency’s own work plan for the next seven years lists timelines for addressing the 30 species on the Endangered Species Act’s candidate list and conducting 320 status reviews for species that have been the subject of a petition seeking federal protection.
The agency has only yet proposed 12 species for protection under the Trump administration, said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. By the same point in the Obama administration’s tenure, it had proposed 35 species, and Clinton 120, according to Greenwald.
Fish and Wildlife’s claims that the administration is working to protect at-risk species “are just false,” Greenwald told Bloomberg Environment. “The Trump administration has kept the Fish and Wildlife Service from completing the majority of decisions from their own work plan, leaving hundreds of highly imperiled species in the lurch.”
The Trump administration proposed three rulemakings in July that it said would improve regulations, but that opponents said would undermine the government’s ability to list species and designate critical habitats.
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