The Trump administration is considering a rule change to something called “the blanket rule.” According to the article, it’s “probably an esoteric issue to most Americans, but to landowners and businesses, primarily in the Western U.S., the ‘blanket’ extension of ESA protections to “threatened” species has punished them for decades. A ‘take’ of a protected species can bring massive civil and criminal penalties. ‘Private property owners’ incentives are key because most endangered species depend on private land for most of their habitat,’ Wood said. ‘This reform will improve those incentives and make it easier for states, property owners, and environmentalists to work together on innovative conservation plans.’ The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service extended “take” protections to species listed as ‘threatened’ under the ESA, despite Congress wanting federal agents to regulate “threatened” species different from those classified as ‘endangered.'”

When the ESA was enacted, Congress’s intent was to protect endangered species, which is defined as “any species in danger of extinction.” Meanwhile, threatened species are defined as “on the brink of becoming endangered.”

Its provisions give the Interior Department the power to determine what species are endangered and then to list them publicly. It makes it illegal to capture, kill, transport, sell, buy, possess, import or export any of the listed plants or animals. There is a separate category for “threatened” species, those organisms that are on the brink of becoming endangered. They are equally protected, except that scientists may take specimens when necessary for vital research.

In the United States the Office of Endangered Species currently lists 51 plants and 143 animals as endangered and 7 plants and 38 animals as threatened. To prevent the import or trade of endangered species native to foreign countries, the office lists 402 foreign animals as endangered and 16 animals and a plant as threatened.

The goal of the ESA is to properly manage plant and animal species so they’re no longer endangered or threatened.

Here in Minnesota, the ESA was critical in turning around the timber wolf population. At one point (the late 1960s and early 1970s), only a few families of timber wolves existed in Minnesota. After proper management, the timber wolf population, through cautious management, was rejuvenated to the point where there were open hunting seasons on the great grey wolf. That’s a legitimate success story. That should be the goal of management policies for all endangered or threatened species.

Instead, the ESA has been used as a weapon against developers. It’s time to de-weaponized the ESA and return sanity to development projects. That will be a difficult task. Environmental activist organizations like the Sierra Club, Conservation Minnesota and others have used the ESA to throttle projects. They won’t give up without a lengthy court fight.

Rejecting the blanket rule won’t fix the law but it’s a positive first step.

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