Restored protections for threatened species under the Biden administration after they were removed by Trump

The rules to protect imperiled species and preserve their habitat from destruction, which were previously rolled back under former President Donald Trump, have been reinstated by the Biden administration. This move aims to ensure the conservation of endangered species and safeguard their ecosystems.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is implementing several changes, including the reinstatement of a long-standing regulation that requires comprehensive protections for newly classified threatened animals and plants. This means that officials will no longer need to develop individual plans to safeguard each species while their protections are being considered. This approach has been recently employed for North American wolverines in the Rocky Mountains, alligator snapping turtles in the Southeast, and spotted owls in California.

Republicans were unhappy with the restoration of stricter regulations, as they believed that the Endangered Species Act was being applied too broadly and hindering economic growth. On the other hand, wildlife advocates were only partially content with the changes made under the Trump administration, as they felt that certain potentially harmful alterations remained untouched.

The blanket protections rule was eliminated in 2019 as part of a series of changes to how the species law is applied under the Trump administration, with support from the industry. These changes occurred at a time when global extinctions were increasing due to factors such as habitat loss and other pressures.

The Trump administration’s 2019 rules created confusion by removing an explicit directive to ignore economic impacts when deciding whether a species should be classified as threatened or endangered. However, a new rule issued on Thursday clarifies that officials must still consider the merits of these designations regardless of potential economic costs. According to Gina Shultz, the Deputy Assistant Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, this clarification aligns with the existing government practice.

The rules set forth by the wildlife service and National Marine Fisheries Service also simplify the process of designating areas as critical for the survival of a species, even if that species is no longer present in those locations.

Officials have indicated that the presence of imperiled fish and freshwater mussels in the Southeast could greatly benefit from this initiative. In many instances, these aquatic animals are currently absent from certain areas within their historical range.

According to Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams, the recent rule changes highlight the agency’s dedication to utilizing the most reliable scientific information in order to combat population declines. Williams emphasizes that various factors such as climate change, degraded and fragmented habitat, invasive species, and wildlife disease pose significant threats to numerous species.

The Associated Press has obtained details on the rules ahead of their public release. According to officials, nearly half a million public comments were submitted regarding the three proposals.

Environmentalists are expressing frustration over the delay in action by President Joe Biden on some of the rollbacks made during the Trump era. They are becoming increasingly urgent due to the possibility of a new Republican administration in 2024 that could further relax environmental protections.

According to Jamie Rappaport Clark, the president of Defenders of Wildlife and former director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, Thursday’s announcement can be seen as a partial victory. While it does reinstate important wildlife protections, some of the changes made under the Trump administration in 2019 remain intact. Clark believes that these retained provisions could potentially lead to the destruction of crucial habitats necessary for the survival of certain species.

Republican lawmakers have strongly opposed the rules, arguing that the Biden administration’s focus on conservation has hindered the development of oil, gas, and coal. They believe that the administration is prioritizing conservation over the growth of these industries.

“We are aware that the Endangered Species Act is an outdated law that has consistently fallen short of its main objective of restoring endangered species. However, Biden is now reversing essential reforms and implementing new regulations that will not be advantageous to the listed species,” stated Bruce Westerman, a Republican from Arkansas and the Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.

According to property rights attorney Jonathan Wood, the changes implemented by the Biden administration have diminished the motivation for private landowners to voluntarily engage in conservation efforts.

When a species is labeled as “threatened,” it receives the same level of protection as those classified as “endangered.” This blanket protection can lead to a lack of concern among landowners regarding the fate of the species. Even if they manage to have an endangered species reclassified as threatened, there may not be a reduction in government restrictions.

According to Shultz from the Fish and Wildlife Service, the main focus of blanket protections would be on threatened plants, as they are typically protected under federal law on federal lands but not on private property. Shultz mentioned that the agency officials are planning to develop species-specific rules for threatened animals in the future.

For years, energy companies, ranchers, developers, and representatives of various industries have considered the 1973 Endangered Species Act as a hindrance. During the Trump administration, they effectively influenced the weakening of the law’s regulations, as part of a larger effort to dismantle environmental safeguards.

The Trump administration’s rule, which restricted the designation of protected areas for endangered species, was withdrawn by the Biden administration two years ago. Additionally, the Biden administration reversed the decision made by Trump to weaken the enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a century-old law. This decision by Trump had made it more challenging to prosecute cases involving bird deaths caused by toxic oil industry waste pits, wind turbine collisions, and other factors.

The Trump administration also reduced the protections for specific species, such as the northern spotted owl and gray wolf.

In 2021, the decision regarding the spotted owl was overturned due to concerns that Trump’s political appointees had relied on flawed scientific evidence to support their decision to open up vast areas of West Coast forest for potential logging. Similarly, a federal court in 2021 reinstated protections for wolves across the majority of the United States.

The Endangered Species Act has been instrumental in the preservation of various animals and plants, including the bald eagle and the California condor. Since its enactment by President Richard Nixon, this law has successfully prevented the extinction of over 1,600 species in the United States and its territories.

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MBS Staff
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