Biden Administration Reverses Two Trump Endangered Species Act Rollbacks

A lesser prairie chicken.

The Biden administration announced Tuesday that it was rescinding two Trump-era rollbacks that limited habitat protections for endangered species.

The first rollback would have allowed the government to deny protections for species in areas that could see benefits from economic development, while the second promoted a narrow definition of habitat that would have made it harder to protect imperilled species from the climate crisis.

The move brings the Endangered Species Act “back into alignment with its original intent and purpose — protecting and recovering America’s biological heritage for future generations,” Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Shannon Estenoz told The AP.

The two rollbacks were formalized during the final months of the Trump administration, which means they did not have much time to go into effect.

The first involved how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) assesses the benefits of designating an area as critical habitat for endangered species. The Endangered Species Act requires the agency to consider the economic impacts of such a designation, but the new rule would have required the FWS to “assign weight” to industry’s analysis of economic impact, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) explained at the time. Democrats and environmental advocates warned that this change would have led to more habitat areas being denied, or opened to activities like drilling, The AP noted.

The second rule involved the definition of “critical habitat.” It would have restricted that definition to only an area that could currently support an endangered species, but not areas that could be restored or might become suitable as the climate crisis shifts conditions and ranges, the CBD explained in a statement emailed to EcoWatch.

“We’re relieved that the Biden administration has taken this important step toward restoring critical protections for imperiled species,” CBD endangered species director Noah Greenwald said in the statement. “There’s just no way to save animals and plants from extinction without safeguarding the places they need to live.”

The move comes after Biden promised in June to cancel five rollbacks that the Trump administration imposed to limit endangered species’ protections. Today, it has finalized canceling the first two. The remaining rollbacks would have:

  1. Gotten rid of automatic protections for threatened species.
  2. Limited the consultation process for considering the impacts of federal activity on endangered species.
  3. Further restricted habitat protections for climate-imperiled species and also given more weight to economic claims.

Species that especially stand to benefit from Tuesday’s decision include the lesser prairie chicken and the dunes sagebrush lizard, wildlife advocates told The AP.

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