The Biden administration rejects the definition of “habitat” for endangered animals and returns to the understanding that existed before the government under President Donald J. Trump reduced the areas that could be protected for animals under threat of extinction.
By removing a single sentence from the regulations, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries could re-protect the “critical habitat” even if it became inappropriate due to developments or other changes, but could be restored.
The Trump administration narrowed the definition of “habitat” and limited federal protection to places that could sustain an endangered species, unlike the broader historical environment where an animal could one day live or live.
But the Trump administration’s rule was contrary to the conservation purposes of the Endangered Species Act 1973, wildlife officials say.
“For some species that are on the verge of extinction due to habitat loss or climate change, and there are literally many habitats left, we need all the tools in the toolkit to protect the remaining habitats that might be appropriate.” said Bridget Fahey, head of the conservation and classification division at the Fish and Wildlife Service.
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Critical habitat designation does not restrict activity on private land unless it involves federal permits or funding; federal agencies must ensure that any measures that fund, permit or implement do not destroy or adversely alter such habitats.
The move comes at a time of intensifying biodiversity crisis, with an estimated million endangered plant and animal species worldwide. The main cause is the loss of the natural environment as people transform wild areas into farms, towns and villages. Pollution and climate change exacerbate this problem.
The change by the Biden administration is the first of several expected changes to the Trump-era rules governing the Endangered Species Act. Officials expect it to repeal the second rule next month, also related to habitat needs. Earlier in June, they proposed a new rule that would strengthen the protection of species in a changing climate by allowing regulators to introduce experimental animal populations outside their historic sites.
But a separate, extensive set of changes from the Trump era in how the Endangered Species Act is implemented, made in 2019, remain in place and plans for them are unclear, environmentalists say. These rules allow regulators to take economic factors into account when deciding on species protection; to facilitate the removal of animals and plants from the list of endangered animals; release protection for species newly classified as ‘endangered’, which is the level below endangered; and make it more difficult to consider the effects of climate change in protecting endangered species.
These changes have been appreciated by industry groups including tThe National Association of Home Builders, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Western Energy Alliance, which welcomed the regulatory relief.
However, conservation groups filed a legal objection to this set of rules in 2019, a case that is still ongoing.
“These harmful rules have been in place for almost three years, and the Biden administration is still down,” said Kristen Boyles, a lawyer for Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental group that has filed lawsuits on behalf of many environmental organizations. “And agencies, of course, use them because they have to use regulations that are in place,” she said, referring to government groups such as the Fish and Wildlife Service.
A year ago, representatives of the Biden administration announced their intention to reconsider the change. They are now awaiting a court decision on the 2019 package.
“Rather than proposing a rule that would then have to be further revised based on the court ruling, we thought it best to wait for what the court would say before taking further action,” said Angela Somma, head of the endangered species division at NOAA. Office for Protected Resources.