Biden administration revokes final Trump changes to Endangered Species Act

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday announced the repeal of the last remaining Trump-era changes to Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations, reverting certain decisions on critical habitats to the Interior Department.

Under the Trump rule, the Fish and Wildlife Service was required to accept private landowners’ claims that including an area in a protected habitat would result in economic harm. Under the pre-Trump rule, which the regulation restores, these exclusions are at the discretion of the Interior secretary.

The announcement comes weeks after a federal judge vacated another Trump ESA rule, this one saying equal protections did not apply to endangered species and those classified as threatened or likely to become endangered. It also comes the month after the administration revoked a separate Trump-era rule imposing stricter constraints on which areas qualify as critical habitats, limiting them to those that can currently support species rather than also those that could later support them.

Environmental organizations praised the decision Wednesday but called on the administration to take steps building on those of the Obama administration rather than simply reverting to the pre-Trump status quo.

“We are thrilled to see the Biden administration take this important step towards restoring Endangered Species Act protections,” Andrew Carter, senior conservation policy analyst for Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement. “Our health and well-being depends on our nation’s rich biodiversity, and the Biden administration needs to keep taking every possible step to shore up the law responsible for saving it, including developing a national biodiversity strategy.”

“Under Trump’s rule, a landowner could have ludicrously claimed they planned to build the next Taj Mahal or Disneyland on their property to avoid it being protected as critical habitat,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “I’m grateful this rule was repealed and that some semblance of common sense has been restored to protecting essential habitat for our endangered plants and animals.”

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