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The Brown Pelican is endangered

A Brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) is flying over water in the bay of Aqua Verde, a small fishing village near Loreto, Sea of Cortez in Baja California, Mexico. (Photo: Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Conservationists Applaud Biden's Reversal of Trump Attack on Endangered Species

"We are in the midst of an unprecedented global extinction crisis, and endangered species have no time to waste."

Julia Conley

Conservation groups applauded the Biden administration on Friday—and urged officials to act quickly—after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service announced plans to undo former President Donald Trump's weakening of the 1973 Endangered Species Act.

Officials said the administration will restore protections that were loosened in 2019 at the behest of developers and other business interests—an action that led several environmental groups to sue Trump's Interior Department.

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to working with diverse federal, tribal, state, and industry partners to not only protect and recover America's imperiled wildlife but to ensure cornerstone laws like the Endangered Species Act (ESA) are helping us meet 21st century challenges," Martha Williams, principal deputy director of the USFWS, told reporters.

According to the Associated Press, the Biden administration's reviews and reversals of Trump's rules could take years to be complete.

Earthjustice, one of the organizations that challenged Trump's regulatory rollback, called Friday's announcement "a hugely important step" while noting that damage is being done currently to many threatened species.

"We are grateful the Biden administration is moving to protect the most imperiled species by reversing the Trump-era rules, but time is of the essence," said Earthjustice in a statement. "Each day that goes by is another day that puts our imperiled species and their habitats in danger."

"As long as they do it quickly, we can avoid bad on-the-ground consequences," David Henkin, a senior attorney with Earthjustice, told the Washington Post.

Led by former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former lobbyist for the fossil fuel industry, the Trump administration required that the impact on business opportunities and other costs of protecting a species be made public; shrank the number of habitats; and allowed areas currently unoccupied by protected species to be opened up for gas and oil drilling and other development.

Oil and gas companies lobbied for protections for the American burying beetle to be weakened after having to work around the animal's natural habitat in order to construct pipelines and other infrastructure. The administration responded by "downlisting" the species from "endangered" to merely "threatened"—drawing ire from scientists and conservationists.

Over 1,600 species have been protected by the ESA in the past five decades, and the law has been credited with saving numerous animals—including the bald eagle, humpback whale, and Florida manatee—from extinction.

The Center for Biological Diversity, another group which sued the Trump administration over the rollback in protections, expressed gratitude for the decision and echoed Earthjustice's call for officials to "act quickly so no more harm can come to grizzly bears, whooping cranes, and so many more."

"We are thrilled the Biden administration is moving in the direction of reinstating and fully enforcing protections under the Endangered Species Act—one of our most effective tools in slowing the extinction crisis," said Kirin Kennedy, deputy legislative director at the Sierra Club. "We need the administration to correct all of the unlawful changes made under the Trump administration, and to do so urgently."

"Right now, the Biden administration must move urgently to completely undo the attacks on this bedrock law carried out under Trump," added Kennedy. "Doing so will move us closer to the sustainable and just solutions necessary to stop the climate crisis, slow mass extinction, and damage to our public lands, water and habitat."

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