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A sea otter in Homer, Alaska. Sea otters are listed as threatened on the Endangered Species List. Photo: Raffi Maghdessian/Getty

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency and NOAA proposed sweeping changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on Thursday.

Why it matters: The changes could reduce protections for at-risk plants and animals, and make it easier to delist species.

Key takeaways: The proposal limits consultation between agencies in cases where federal activity could harm a species.

  • It makes it easier to remove plants and animals from the list of protected species.
  • The proposal adds regulatory hurdles to the process of designating a critical habitat.
  • The changes would no longer apply blanket critical-habitat policies, allowing for certain areas where it is not "prudent" to avoid that designation.
  • It alters the process that federal agencies must abide by to make changes that can harm endangered species.

The big picture: The ESA, put in place during the Nixon administration, is responsible for saving species including the grizzly bear, the blue whale and the bald eagle. It could be especially critical moving forward as habitats for all wildlife face threats due to expanding infrastructure and climate change.

  • The ESA identifies threatened species and ecosystems with the ultimate goal of "recovering" species so that they can flourish without the act's protection. It prevents development in critical habitats and the "taking" of a listed species without a permit. There are currently 1,661 threatened and endangered species on the ESA that live in the U.S.

A recent study from Ohio State University examined whether the act is considered as controversial by the public as it is in government bodies, where Republicans have long criticized it. They found that 74% of conservatives, 77% of moderates, and 90% of liberals favor the act as it stands.

What's next: The full changes will be published in coming days in the Federal Register, at which time public comment will open for a 60-day period.

Go deeper

28 U.S. citizens depart Afghanistan on Qatar Airways flight

Passengers board a Qatar Airways aircraft bound to Qatar at the airport in Kabul on September 10, 2021. Photo: Aamir Qureshi/AFP via Getty Images

The State Department on Saturday confirmed that a Qatar Airways charter flight left Kabul on Friday with 28 U.S. citizens and seven lawful permanent residents on board.

The big picture: Friday's flight is the third such airlift by Qatar Airways since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, AP reports.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Smaller than expected "Justice for J6" rally met with large police presence

Police officers watch as demonstrators gather for the "Justice for J6" rally in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 18, 2021. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

A few hundred demonstrators were met by a heavy law enforcement presence on Saturday at the "Justice for J6" rally outside the fenced-off U.S. Capitol, AP reports.

The latest: Four people were arrested at the rally, including one person with a gun, one with a knife and two with outstanding warrants, per the U.S. Capitol Police.

DHS to increase deportation flights to Haiti from Del Rio

Migrants walk across the Rio Grande River carrying supplies back to a makeshift encampment under the international bridge between Del Rio, Texas, and Acuña, Mexico. Officials are struggling to provide food, water, shelter and sanitation, forcing migrants to cross the Rio Grande several times per day for basic necessities. Photo: Jordan Vonderhaar via Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security on Saturday announced plans to ramp up deportation flights to Haiti out of the small Texas border town Del Rio, starting as soon as Sunday.

Why it matters: Reports have emerged of more than 10,000 migrants, primarily from Haiti, crowded in a temporary camp under the international bridge in Del Rio. Hoping to find refuge in the United States, they've had to bear with filthy conditions and the scorching sun for days, per an NBC News affiliate.