The Trump administration has tried to undermine sage grouse protections and new rules announced Monday could make it harder to protect the sentinel species. (twildlife/iStockphoto)

CARSON CITY, Nev. – Conservation groups are speaking out against new rules announced Monday that weaken the Endangered Species Act.

Hear an audio report from Suzanne Potter.


In the past, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could only consider the science when deciding if a species is sliding toward extinction and merits federal protections. The new rules allow the agency to consider the lost economic opportunities such a listing would effect.

Kyle Davis, policy consultant with the Nevada Conservation League, said the state has prospered in recent years with the current standards in place.

“Species can be conserved while at the same time the economy can continue to grow,” Davis said. “There is this false choice that is always put out there. And that’s just not the case.”

It is unclear exactly how potential economic impact would be assessed.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said the changes lessen the regulatory burden on industry. But Davis said Americans appreciate the intrinsic value of keeping species alive.

The rules also make it easier to take a plant or animal off of the threatened or endangered species list – which could clear the way for more industrial operations on sensitive land. Davis said although the Trump administration has been approving more oil and gas leases, other industries stand to benefit more.

“Realistically, what you’re probably talking about is some changes to ranching practices, but probably the biggest impact comes to hard-rock mining,” she said.

In Nevada, preservation groups have worked hard to protect critical habitat for many species, including the desert tortoise and the western sage grouse. A recent United Nations report found human activity is pushing 1 million species worldwide toward extinction.