The Trump administration is expected to finalize new rules that critics argue would weaken the Endangered Species Act.
Hailey Hawkins is the Southern Rockies field representative with the Endangered Species Coalition. She said under current law, species listed as threatened automatically get the same protections as those listed as endangered. But under the new rules, new candidates for threatened status would not be protected.
"Oftentimes, species go extinct waiting to get listed," Hawkins said. "But now, if we're going to make threatened species wait even longer for protections, that just increases our chances of losing even more species."
The proposal also would require the U.S. Interior Department to consider economic analysis for the first time before determining a listing, which Hawkins said could put industry profits above the needs of wildlife and entire ecosystems. The Trump administration has argued that it is necessary to remove regulations it sees as barriers to fossil fuel development in order to achieve energy dominance.
Hawkins said the proposal will make it much harder to prevent loss of habitat, a primary cause of extinctions. And the new rules also would prohibit listing species based on threats posed by climate change.
"So anything that we do that fragments habitat or destroys habitat is going to be really bad for wildlife," she said; "including climate change, development, or if that's extractive industries like oil and gas or logging."
According to a 2015 poll conducted by independent researchers, 90 percent of American voters across political, regional and demographic lines support the Endangered Species Act. Last September, conservation groups submitted more than 800,000 public comments opposing the administration's proposed changes.