As the climate warms, the United States allows the movement of endangered species as a last resort

Billings, Mont. (AP) US officials on Friday said they will make it easier for scientists move plants and animals outside their historical ranges as a last resort to save the species threatened with extinction from climate change.

Relocations of species distressed by climate change have been done on a limited basis to date, including in Hawaii, where researchers have raced to move seabirds to new islands to save them from rising ocean waters.

A change to federal regulations released Friday by the Biden administration would allow for similar transfers for some of the most endangered plants and animals protected under the Endangered Species Act.

It also allows for relocation when a species is excluded from non-native plants or wildlife. Officials plan to introduce Guam kingfishers to Palmyra Atoll in southern Hawaii this summer, after brown tree snakes accidentally brought to Guam around 1950 decimated their population. The birds are extinct in the wild but kept in zoos.

Moving species to new areas has long been considered taboo due to the potential to disrupt native ecosystems and displace local flora and fauna. The practice is gaining acceptance among many scientists and government officials as climate change alters habitats around the world.

Federal officials said the impacts of climate change hadn’t been fully realized when they adopted earlier rules that prevent the relocation of endangered species. As global warming intensifies, habitat changes are forcing some wildlife to move to new areas to survive, while pushing other species closer to extinction, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement.

He said allowing the relocations would strengthen conservation efforts and help protect the species for future generations.

Republicans in western states where gray wolves were reintroduced two decades ago due to strong local objections have opposed the proposal. Officials in Montana, New Mexico and Arizona have warned that the relocations could wreak ecological havoc as invasive species are intentionally introduced.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianfortes spokesman Jack O’Brien said state officials would review the changes, but expressed disappointment that federal officials announced they were heading for a holiday weekend.

Examples abound of ecological disasters caused by species introduced to new areas, from Asian carp spreading through rivers and streams in the United States, to starlings from Europe destroying crops and driving away songbirds.

Other state wildlife officials have supported the change and along with outside scientists have suggested species that could benefit. These include the Key deer of southern Florida, desert flowers in Nevada and California, and the St. Croix ground lizard in the Virgin Islands.

Patrick Donnelly of the Center for Biological Diversity said he was concerned the rule could be abused to allow habitat destruction to make way for development. He’s group battled plans for a Nevada lithium mine where a endangered desert wildflower it has been found. The developer proposed transplanting Tiehms’ buckwheat and growing new plants elsewhere.

The Tiehms buckwheat situation has raised the specter of a mining company intentionally destroying the habitat of an endangered species and then attempting to create new habitat elsewhere as compensation, Donnelly said. He is worrying that this new rule does not contain an explicit ban on such an agreement.

The new species relocation rule follows recent steps the Biden administration to reverse major changes to the endangered species program during the Trump administration. Industry groups have lobbied for those earlier changes but have been heavily criticized by environmentalists.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said last week it would reinstate a decades-old regulation imposing blanket protections for species newly classified as threatened. Even officials said they would no longer consider the economic impacts when deciding whether animals and plants need protection.


Follow Matteo Brown: @MatteoBrownAP

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