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Biden Administration Rescinds Trump Rule Limiting Habitat Protections for Endangered Species

WASHINGTON -

The Biden administration finalized a rule today rescinding a Trump-era regulation that severely limited the government’s ability to protect habitat that imperiled animals and plants like wolverines and golden-winged warblers need to survive and recover.

“We’re relieved that the Biden administration has taken this important step toward restoring habitat protections slashed by Trump officials,” said Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “But it’s disappointing that the administration hasn’t moved more quickly to both restore the power of the Endangered Species Act and reform the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other regulatory agencies. With the extinction crisis accelerating, we have to take bold, transformative action before it’s too late.”

Today’s rule revokes a Trump administration regulation that severely restricted the areas the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service could designate as protected “critical habitat” for threatened and endangered species.

The Trump rule limited protections to areas that could currently support the species — but excluded areas that were previously occupied and could be restored, or that will provide additional habitat for future recovery as climate change shifts where species can live.

Today’s rule marks the first of five Trump-era regulation rollbacks that the Biden administration has said it would revise or rescind.

Last October the Biden administration announced it would also rescind a rule that made habitat exclusions much more likely by radically altering the process for deciding when to exclude a particular area from a critical habitat designation. The Services pledged to rescind a third rule that removed automatic protections for wildlife newly designated as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, but has been slow to do so.

The Services said they would revise, but not rescind, the remaining two Trump rules, which were finalized in 2019.

One weakened the consultation process designed to prevent federal agencies’ activities from harming endangered animals and their habitat. The second Trump rule curtailed the designation of critical habitat, especially for species threatened by climate change, and weakened the listing process for imperiled species by allowing economic impacts to be considered when deciding whether to protect them. It’s unclear why these rules are not being revoked outright by the Biden administration.

“These rollbacks were a disaster for imperiled species and the Biden administration should rescind them without question,” said Kurose. “Each day these rules are left in place could literally mean life or death for our most vulnerable animals and plants. It’s deplorable that this isn’t a higher priority for the administration.”

The Center recently filed a legal petition urging the wildlife agencies to not only undo the Trump-era rollbacks to the Act, but to push for ambitious new regulatory safeguards that strengthen all aspects of the law.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive. 

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