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Biden Takes Steps To Restore Endangered Species Protections Abandoned By Trump
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Biden Takes Steps To Restore Endangered Species Protections Abandoned By Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration says it is canceling or reviewing a slew of Trump administration actions aimed at weakening protections for endangered or threatened species, with the goal of strengthening a landmark law while addressing climate change.

The reviews by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service are aimed at five Endangered Species Act regulations finalized by the Trump administration, including critical habitat designations and rules defining the scope of federal actions on endangered species. The Fish and Wildlife Service also announced Friday that it will reinstate the so-called “blanket rule,” which mandates that all federal actions on endangered species be implemented.

Habitat designations for threatened or endangered species can lead to restrictions on energy development, such as mining or oil drilling, that could disturb a vulnerable species, while the scoping rule helps determine how far the government can go to protect imperiled species.

Under Trump, officials reduced protections for the northern spotted owl, gray wolves, and other species, actions that President Joe Biden has promised to review. His administration has already moved to reverse Trump's decision to weaken enforcement of the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act, making it more difficult to prosecute bird deaths caused by the energy industry.

The decision on the bird law is one of more than 100 business-friendly environmental actions taken by Trump that Biden wants reconsidered, revised, or scrapped; the reviews announced Friday are a follow-up to that executive order.

“The United States 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 also to ensure that cornerstone laws like the Endangered Species Act help us meet 21st-century challenges,” said Martha Williams, principal deputy director of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Williams added that the agency is looking forward to "continuing these conservation collaborations and ensuring our efforts are fully transparent and inclusive."

Many of the rules targeted by Trump were enacted by former President Barack Obama and took him years to reverse, continuing a decades-long back-and-forth between Democratic and Republican administrations with starkly different approaches to environmental regulation.

Industry groups and Republicans in Congress have long viewed the Endangered Species Act as an impediment to economic development, and they successfully lobbied to weaken the law's regulations under Trump. Environmental groups and Democratic-controlled states fought the moves in court, but those cases remained unresolved when Trump left office in January.

The Center for Biological Diversity's Noah Greenwald expressed gratitude that the Trump rules had been canceled or changed, particularly one that would have denied blanket protections to threatened species.

Greenwald said, “We hope they move quickly so that more species are not harmed.”

Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles, who was involved in legal challenges to the Trump rules, said Friday's announcement addressed major changes under the previous administration that needed to be addressed, but questions remain about what will happen while the new proposals go through a lengthy rule-making process.

“These will take time, and we don't want the harm to continue in the meantime,” she explained.

Great news for endangered species: the Biden administration intends to reverse the previous administration's harmful rollbacks that gutted Endangered Species Act provisions. #StopExtinction"Endangered species have no time to waste." @earthjustice https://t.co/1wgONyRkCnNational Parks Conservation Association (@NPCA) June 4, 2021

According to Jonathan Wood, a lawyer with the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative law firm that advocates for property rights, the Biden proposals could backfire by removing incentives for landowners to help endangered wildlife.

“Some things in the Trump rules were correct,” Wood said, citing regulations that he said provided needed flexibility and better incentives to recover endangered species.

“This appears to be a 180-degree reversal,” he said, “and we’re going to yo-yo back and forth on what the rules are once more.”

The Biden administration stated in January that it was reconsidering a Trump rule that removed federal protections for wolves in most of the Lower 48 states, but officials have not backed away from the Trump rule and continue to defend it in court.

The Fish and Wildlife Service reduced the amount of protected federal old-growth forest used by the spotted owl by one-third in the final days of the Trump administration, a move applauded by the timber industry and slammed by Democrats and environmental groups.

In order to review the decision, the Biden administration has temporarily postponed the implementation of Trump-era rules.

The Biden administration proposed federal protections for the lesser prairie chicken last week, claiming that its habitat across five states is at risk of becoming more fragmented, with the effects of climate change and drought expected to exacerbate the situation. The chicken's habitat spans parts of New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, including a portion of the oil-rich Permian Basin.

The Obama administration announced this week that an extremely rare wildflower found only in Nevada's high desert should be protected under the Endangered Species Act. The Tiehm's buckwheat flower grows where an Australian mining company wants to dig for lithium.

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