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Biden administration announces first steps to undo Trump Endangered Species Act changes

October 27, 2021
Lindsay Larris, WildEarth Guardians, (310) 923-1465, LLarris@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
#EndangeredSpeciesAct, #PressStatement, #StopExtinction
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, the Biden administration announced its intent to rescind two Trump-era regulations that weaken habitat protections for threatened and endangered species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service—the agencies that implement the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and referred to together as “the Services”—plan to revoke two rules finalized at the end of the Trump administration related to the regulatory definition of “habitat,” as well as a regulation governing what areas can be excluded as critical habitat for listed species.

“In the midst of an extinction crisis, we’re glad to see the Biden administration restore important protections for imperiled wildlife,” said Joe Bushyhead, endangered species policy advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “Critical habitat designation provides one of the most effective tools for preventing species from going extinct.”

The ESA requires the Services to designate “critical habitat” for all domestic threatened and endangered species. Critical habitat is defined as occupied and unoccupied habitat “essential to the conservation of the species.” Once designated, the ESA prohibits federal agencies from carrying out activities that would adversely modify these areas.

The Trump administration’s regulations limit the Services’ ability to designate critical habitat. The regulation defines “habitat” to only include areas that currently support listed species, barring areas that simply need restoration, or areas that will become necessary habitat as a consequence of climate change. The second regulation forces the Services to give undo weight to economic interests when deciding if certain areas should be excluded from critical habitat designations. Both regulations were finalized in December of 2020, during the waning days of the administration.

WildEarth Guardians and other conservation groups, represented by attorneys at Earthjustice, sued the Trump administration over these and other regulations designed to weaken the ESA. In June, the Biden administration issued a press release announcing its intent to rescind or revise five Trump-era regulations. These are the first two of those regulations. Litigation is still on-going as all of the Trump rollbacks remain in effect pending finalization of new rules.

“While we are glad to see some action taken by the Biden administration, it has taken more than nine months to simply start the process of rulemaking to rescind two obviously flawed regulations,” said Lindsay Larris, wildlife program director at WildEarth Guardians. “We are hopeful that the Biden administration will work more swiftly from here forward to repeal all of the harmful Trump regulations and manage a growing backlog of species’ petitions and recovery planning in the midst of the looming biodiversity crisis.”

Despite listing the ocelot as endangered, and despite a legal petition from WildEarth Guardians, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has refused to create critical habitat protections for this imperiled cat. That hesitation may prove fatal: From 1991 to 2000 alone, approximately 113,126 acres of suitable ocelot habitat were destroyed in south Texas. Without critical habitat protections, ocelots are unable to expand into new territories and connect with other isolated populations. Guardians and partners are working to protect these rare cats from snares and traps so that their fragmented U.S. populations will have the best possible chance of survival.