More than 3,000 Americans died of COVID-19 on December 15 alone. But instead of focusing on the public health crisis that is killing citizens and ruining their livelihoods, President Trump’s administration was busy getting in a few more digs at wildlife before leaving office. So on Monday, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service finalized a change in the Endangered Species Act which will push many species closer to extinction.

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“For the past four years, the Trump administration has been laser-focused on weakening the Endangered Species Act — America’s most important wildlife protection law that has prevented the extinction of species like the bald eagle and grizzly bear,” said Rebecca Riley, legal director of NRDC’s Nature Program.

Related: Gray wolves at risk after being delisted as an endangered species

The controversial change centers on defining the word “habitat.” Because wildlife is constantly being encroached upon, species adapt to whatever habitat they can manage to survive in. So a broader definition is important if we want to protect animals as they struggle to exist alongside the excesses and whims of humans. But now the ESA will more narrowly define habitat so that it will be harder to prove a certain area is critical to an endangered species and thus protected. Areas that could conceivably support species in the future will be excluded from conservation.

“We need to call this out for what it is: a blatant disregard for our nation’s wildlife and wild places, in favor of more oil and gas development and habitat destruction,” Riley said. “This Administration continues to favor special interests over the interests of most Americans, who favor species protections.”

A lot of people do care. When the Trump administration publicized an initial proposal to change the ESA earlier this year, more than 167,000 people responded in public comments. Most were speaking out against the changes.

Around the country, red wolves, Oahu tree snails, Florida panthers and Eskimo curlews are collectively holding their breath, thinking January 20 can’t come soon enough.


Image via Ryan Moehring / USFWS