The Biden administration rejects the definition of “habitat” for endangered animals, reverting to an understanding that existed before President Donald J. Trump’s administration slashed areas that could be protected for endangered animals extinction.
By removing a single sentence from the regulations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Fisheries Administration could once again protect a “critical habitat” even if it had become unsuitable due to development or other changes. , but could be restored.
The Trump administration has narrowed the definition of “habitat,” limiting federal protection to only places that may support an endangered species, as opposed to broader historic habitat where the animal may one day live or inhabit.
But the Trump administration’s rule was at odds with the conservation goals of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, wildlife officials say.
“For some species that are on the verge of extinction due to habitat loss or climate change, and there’s literally not much habitat left, we need all the tools in the toolbox to be able to protect remaining habitats that may be suitable,” said Bridget Fahey, division chief for conservation and classification at the Fish and Wildlife Service.
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A critical habitat designation does not limit activity on private lands unless it involves federal approval or funding; federal agencies must ensure that the actions they fund, authorize, or take do not destroy or adversely alter these habitats.
The move comes amid an escalating biodiversity crisis, with an estimated one million plant and animal species worldwide at risk of extinction. One of the main causes is habitat loss, as people turn wild areas into farms, towns and villages. Pollution and climate change make the problem worse.
The change made by the Biden administration is the first of several expected reversals of the Trump-era rules that govern the Endangered Species Act. Officials expect to rescind a second rule, also related to habitat requirements, next month. And earlier in June, they proposed a new rule that would strengthen species protections in a changing climate by allowing regulators to introduce experimental populations of animals outside their historic ranges.
But a separate, sweeping set of Trump-era changes to how the Endangered Species Act is enforced, made in 2019, remain in place with plans for them unclear, advocates say. environment. These rules allow regulators to consider economic factors in decisions on species protection; facilitate the removal of animals and plants from the list of endangered species; easing protections for species newly listed as “threatened,” which is the lower tier of endangered; and make it more difficult to consider the impacts of climate change when protecting species at risk.
These changes have been applauded by industry groups, including youThe National Home Builders Association, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Western Energy Alliance, which welcomed the regulatory relief.
But conservation groups filed a legal challenge to that set of rules in 2019, a case that is still pending.
“These harmful rules have been in place for nearly three years and the Biden administration is still missing,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney with Earthjustice, the nonprofit environmental law group that filed the lawsuit on behalf of a large number of environmental organizations. “And the agencies use them, of course, because they have to use the regulations that are in place,” she said, referring to government groups like the Fish and Wildlife Service.
A year ago, Biden administration officials announced their intention to reconsider the changes. They are now awaiting the court’s decision on the 2019 regulations.
“Rather than come up with a rule that may then need to be revised further based on a court ruling, we thought it best to wait for what the court says before taking further action,” Angela said. Somma, head of the endangered species division at NOAA. Office of Protected Resources.