According to a leaked memo, the Trump administration is instructing the Fish & Wildlife Service to be quiet about changes to the Endangered Species Act.
The memo, obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity, says that the Service should limit, withhold or delay releasing the information it releases about the administration’s actions regarding the law, including decision-making about protected species.
The memo includes examples of records the Fish & Wildlife Service should withhold, including drafts of policies and rules, briefing documents, decision meeting notes and records of instances where the advice of career scientists is overridden by the Trump administration.
“This is a clear attempt to stifle science and boost Trump’s anti-wildlife agenda,” said Meg Townsend, the Center for Biological Diversity’s open government attorney. “The public has every right to know how our government makes decisions about the fate of our most endangered species. This memo keeps the public in the dark and creates the perfect environment for political meddling.”
In his first two years in office, Trump has rolled back numerous environmental protections that affect endangered species, including shrinking the size of national monuments. In June 2017, Trump removed Yellowstone grizzly bears from the endangered species list, allowing them to be hunted.
The administration’s stealth mode about endangered species has in effect for some time. In March and April 2017, the Fish and Wildlife Service quietly withdrew regulatory actions to protect at least 42 endangered species, from the green sea turtle to the yellow-billed cuckoo, in a way that environmentalists say may have broken federal law. It went unnoticed by environmental groups because the administration only mentioned it as part of a larger, more general statement about the status of regulations.
“This Trump memo would send all future Fish and Wildlife Service decisions into a black hole and result in more animals going extinct,” said Townsend. “If the Trump administration would simply let the Fish and Wildlife Service follow the law and support decisions with science, it wouldn’t need the memo or have anything to hide.”
Last July, the administration proposed sweeping new regulations that would seriously weaken the Endangered Species Act, such as considering the economic consequences of placing or keeping a species on the list. The news drew more than 800,000 public comments.
According to a survey by PBS NewsHour, four out of five Americans support the Endangered Species Act, while 1 out of 10 oppose it.