Zoo officials ask for public's help to stop Endangered Species Act changes

SEATTLE -- Zoo officials and other wildlife advocates are urging the public to speak out against proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act.

Alejandro Grajal, the president and CEO of the Woodland Park Zoo, Dr. Lisa Graumlich with the University of Washington and congresswoman Pramila Jayapal spoke at the Woodland Park Zoo Wednesday, encouraging the public to voice concern about the proposed changes.

"If you're like me," Grajal said. "Then hearing proposals about rolling back protections for endangered species seems like the last thing we need to be today."

The changes, proposed in July, include potential limits on habitat protections, an end to automatic protections for threatened plants and animals, and streamlining inter-agency consultations when federal government actions could jeopardize a species.

Zoo officials said other potential moves, such as looking at economic studies when evaluating animal protections, hurt the Act standing since 1973.

"Forever, the endangered species act has been all about science and how science supports protection for these species," Grajal said. "Bringing additional values and additional items into the protection means the value of the protection will be diluted."

The proposals come amid longstanding criticism of the Act by business groups and Republicans in Congress. Many Republicans say the Act hinders economic activities while doing little to restore the species.

Zoo officials said the changes could hurt the dozens of animals listed as endangered in Washington state, such as the southern resident orca. There are more than 1,300 animals listed.

"We should be doing these decisions based on science," Grajal said.

Public comment on the proposed changes ends Sept. 24. Officials with the zoo called on the public to speak up against the changes either online or via their congressional representatives.