Aug. 12 (UPI) -- The U.S. Interior Department announced major conservation reforms Monday that weaken protections for endangered animal species -- and for the first time allows the government to consider economic factors when determining which species to guard.
Officials said the department will overhaul the Endangered Species Act of 1973 through various changes, which limit which animals are allowed on the endangered species list. Among others, it allows the government to make economic considerations when deciding threats to wildlife.
The department will also limit how far into the future it looks to determine if a species will become threatened or extinct, a move some worry will blind the federal government to the influence of climate change.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the changes "fit squarely within the president's mandate of easing the regulatory burden on the American public without sacrificing our species' protection and recovery goals."
Supporters -- like ranchers and oil and gas companies -- say it will ease regulatory burden to allow for new mining and drilling and development in protected habitats.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association called the decision "long-awaited regulatory relief."
Critics argue it will drive more species to extinction.
"In all likelihood ... the federal government itself and individuals will be damaging the habitat and likely increase the timetable and likelihood of species going extinct," David Hayes, executive director of the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center, said.
The 46-year-old conservation law is credited with saving the bald eagle and American alligator.