SOURCE: Washington Post

DATE: August 16, 2019

SNIP: This week, the Trump administration finalized changes intended to weaken key provisions of the Endangered Species Act.

As Darryl Fears writes for The Washington Post, the changes would “allow the administration to reduce the amount of habitat set aside for wildlife and remove tools that officials use to predict future harm to species as a result of climate change. It would also reveal for the first time in the law’s 45-year history the financial costs of protecting them.”

The changes have drawn widespread condemnation from the scientific community, including complaints the administration is weakening protections for vulnerable species just as scientific consensus is converging on the idea that Earth is now in the midst of its sixth mass extinction event, a man-made disaster with radically destabilizing consequences.

The list of the fallen includes some relatively familiar creatures, such as the passenger pigeon and the Steller’s sea cow. But it’s composed primarily of mollusks, insects and other more obscure organisms. Most importantly, it’s egregiously incomplete: Biologists estimate that only about 10 percent of the world’s plant and animal species has been identified and categorized, meaning that many are being killed off before humans are even aware of their existence.

“We’re obliterating landscapes before we’ve even had a chance to catalogue the species that lived there,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. The true number of species that we’ve wiped out, she says, is “completely unknown.”

We do know, however, that the current rate of species extinction is orders of magnitude above what the geological record indicates is normal. “The rate of species extinction is already at least tens to hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years, and it is set to rise sharply still further unless drivers are reduced,” according to a U.N. report released in May.

One of the Trump administration’s changes to the Endangered Species Act would put economic costs at the forefront of public discussion over whether to protect a species. That’s one reason industry groups, like home builders and energy producers, have embraced the move.

Meanwhile, the sixth mass extinction rolls on. While the Trump administration was rewriting the Endangered Species Act earlier this year, the Fish and Wildlife Service was preparing a separate action to remove 23 plant and animal species, including the ivory-billed woodpecker, from the endangered list.

The reason? They’ve gone extinct.