Improving the Endangered Species Act requires more than rule reversal

November 05, 2020

Although species are disappearing at an alarming rate worldwide, the Trump administration recently finalized a series of substantial changes to the regulations that underpin the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA), several of which effectively undermine species conservation. While these changes are the subject of pending lawsuits and congressional bills, in a Policy Forum, Ya-Wei Li and colleagues argue that simple reversal of these rules will not alone solve the fundamental problems underlying the ESA. Since its adoption in 1973, the ESA has been the target of unabated political controversy, largely due to its ability to restrict economic activity. However, the ESA is also criticized for its inconsistent and ad hoc implementation. According to Li et al., a large source of these issues stems from a lack of consensus and transparency concerning the language used by the ESA, which can lead to different interpretations of the Law; this leaves it vulnerable to political manipulation, often at the expense of the mandate's environmental goals. The authors outline suggestions on ways to reduce the ESA's apparent inconsistencies and improve consensus, conservation legitimacy and policy outcomes. "Let the current controversy over the revised regulations serve as the starting point to finding meaningful solutions and having deeper discussions of what must be done to conserve imperiled species in the United States and elsewhere," write Li et al.
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American Association for the Advancement of Science

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