Energy & Environment

Biden administration reverses Trump endangered species habitat definition

This image from a live web cam provided by Yurok Tribal Government shows California condors waiting for release in a designated staging enclosure, which is attached to the flight pen on Tuesday, May 3, 2022. The endangered California condor has returned to the skies over the state’s far northern coast redwood forests for the first time in more than a century. Two captive-bred birds were released Tuesday in Redwood National Park, an hour’s drive south of the Oregon state line. (Yurok Tribal Government via AP)

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services on Thursday announced a new rule reversing a Trump-era definition of “habitat” as applied to endangered animals. 

Under the 2020 rule, the definition of federally-protected habitats for endangered species was narrowed to only those where a species could currently live, excluding those that could someday sustain a species. On Thursday, FWS reversed this, saying it contravened the intent of the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA).  

“The growing extinction crisis highlights the importance of the Endangered Species Act and efforts to conserve species before declines become irreversible,” Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Shannon Estenoz said in a statement. “Today’s action will bring implementation of the Act back into alignment with its original purpose and intent and ensures that species recovery is guided by transparent science-based policies and conservation actions that preserve America’s biological heritage for future generations.” 

“Amidst an escalating global biodiversity crisis—the loss of species, destruction of ecosystems, and a weakening of the support system for all life—the U.S. should not be undermining the Endangered Species Act,” Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement. “Thanks to the Biden administration for throwing out the previous administration’s harmful habitat definition. It’s welcome news, but there is still more work to be done to shore up the ESA so that imperiled wildlife have every fighting chance to survive and thrive.” 

The Biden administration has taken and planned a number of actions to reverse Trump-era rollbacks, both on environmental issues in general and ESA issues in particular. With thin Democratic margins in Congress, such rollbacks have been one of the administration’s easier options to take action on environmental regulations.

Should the party lose control of one or both houses of Congress in the midterm elections, the administration is likely to become increasingly reliant on regulatory actions. 

Earlier this month, the administration proposed new regulations under the ESA that broadened its options for introducing experimental animal populations. Last October it proposed to roll back two other Trump-era alterations to how a “critical habitat” is defined. Environmental advocates had argued the Trump rule was overly deferent to industry. 

Tags Biden biden administration Endangered species Trump administration Trump regulations
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