“These rules were blatantly reckless and anti-wildlife. Amid a biodiversity and climate crisis, it’s frustrating that so much time has to be spent undoing the former administration’s damage. But this was time well spent, and we thank the Biden administration for these important actions.”
Today, the Biden administration announced it is reversing two harmful Trump administration rules that undermine the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the bedrock law that protects our nation’s wildlife from extinction.
“These rules were blatantly reckless and anti-wildlife,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife. “Amid a biodiversity and climate crisis, it’s frustrating that so much time has to be spent undoing the former administration’s damage. But this was time well spent, and we thank the Biden administration for these important actions.”
Broadly, the two rules had altered the way critical habitat is designated.
Critical habitat is the habitat that scientists deem essential to the conservation of endangered or threatened species. Under the ESA, critical habitat is only designated after weighing the costs and benefits of conservation.
However, Trump’s first rule heavily favored industry by requiring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) give weight to information provided by those seeking to prevent protections in the first place. It also required FWS to consider excluding areas at a landowner’s request, making it more likely that habitat would be used to benefit industries such as oil and gas.
The second rule established a narrow definition of habitat that could be included in a critical habitat designation. Under the Trump definition, unoccupied habitat that historically supported a listed species—and could again if that habitat was restored—was excluded. This included any potential habitat that might be needed to accommodate climate or habitat-loss-induced migrations in the future.
“The Trump administration did all it could to undermine implementation of the Endangered Species Act and it is time to put the program back on track,” said Jason Rylander, lead endangered species counsel for Defenders of Wildlife. “We anxiously await the Biden administration's revisions of the remaining three Trump rules and hope they are true to the spirit of conservation and wildlife protection embodied in the act.”
The Biden administration has also said it will revise a Trump administration rule governing the listing process by, among other things, reinstating regulatory language barring considerations of economics when making science-based decisions on a species’ conservation status. It will also be reconsidering the Trump administration’s rule governing interagency cooperation.
Lastly, the Biden administration previously announced it will adjust the Trump rule that stripped species from presumptive protection under the ESA. Until Trump, automatic protections for threatened species had been the norm since 1978.
To date, almost every species that has received ESA protections still exists, including the California condor, the bald eagle and the Florida manatee.