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Biden aims to restore protections for species weakened by Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Biden administration has said it is overturning or revising a series of actions by the Trump administration aimed at rescinding protections for endangered and threatened species, in a bid to strengthen a landmark law while by fighting climate change.

Reviews by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service target five Endangered Species Act regulations finalized by the Trump administration, including critical habitat designations and rules defining scope of action federal authorities on endangered species. The Fish and Wildlife Service also announced on Friday that it would reinstate the so-called “rule book,” which imposes additional protections for species newly classified as endangered. Under former President Donald Trump, these protections were removed.

Habitat designations for threatened or endangered species can result in limitations on energy development such as mining or oil drilling that could disturb a vulnerable species, while the scoping rule helps determine up to where the government can go to protect endangered species.

Under Trump, officials rolled back protections for the northern spotted owl, gray wolves and other species, actions President Joe Biden has vowed to review. His administration has already decided to reverse Trump’s decision to weaken enforcement of the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty law, which has made it more difficult to prosecute bird deaths caused by the energy industry. .

The bird law decision was one of more than 100 environmentally friendly business actions Trump has taken and Biden wants reconsidered and possibly revised or removed. The exams announced Friday follow this decree.

“The US Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to working with various federal, tribal, state and industry partners not only to protect and recover America’s endangered wildlife, but to ensure that basic laws like the Endangered species are helping us meet the challenges of the 21st century, ”said Martha Williams, Senior Associate Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agency looks forward to “continuing these conservation collaborations and ensuring that our efforts are fully transparent and inclusive,” added Williams.

The exams announced on Friday will take months or years. Many of the rules Trump is targeting originate from former President Barack Obama and it took him years to unravel, continuing a decades-old back-and-forth between the Democratic and Republican administrations with radically different approaches to the rule. environmental regulations.

Industry groups and Republicans in Congress have long viewed the Endangered Species Act as an obstacle to economic development, and under Trump they have successfully lobbied to weaken the regulations of the law. Environmental groups and Democratic-controlled states fought rulings in court, but those cases remained unsolved when Trump stepped down in January.

Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity said the environmental group was grateful to see the Trump rules rescinded or changed, especially a rule that would have denied comprehensive protection for endangered species.

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

Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles, who has been involved in court challenges to the Trump rules, said Friday’s announcement covered major changes under the previous administration that needed to be addressed. But Boyles said questions remain about what will happen as the new proposals go through a lengthy rule-making process.

“It will take time, and in the meantime, we don’t want the evil to continue,” she said.

Jonathan Wood, a lawyer for the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative law firm that defends property rights, said Biden’s proposals could backfire by removing incentives for landowners to cooperate to help wildlife in peril.

“There were some things in the Trump rules that were fair,” Wood said, citing regulations that he said offered needed flexibility and better incentives to recover endangered species.

“It basically looks like a 180 degree reversal,” he said. “Once again, we’re going to be going back and forth on the rules.”

The Biden administration said in January it was reviewing a Trump rule that removed federal protections for wolves in most of the lower 48 states, but so far officials have not strayed from the Trump rule and continue. to defend it in court. Wildlife advocates pushed to restore federal protections for gray wolves in the northern Rockies and upper Midwest after Republicans in Idaho, Montana and other states made it much easier to kill The predators.

In the final days of the Trump administration, the Fish and Wildlife Service cut the amount of federally protected old growth forest used by the spotted owl by a third, a move that has been applauded by the lumber industry and criticized by Democrats and environmental groups. .

The Biden administration has temporarily delayed implementation of the Trump-era rules in order to review the decision.

Last week, the Biden administration offered federal protections for the little prairie chicken, saying its habitat in five states was at risk of becoming more fragmented, with an expected additional toll from the effects of climate change and drought. The chicken habitat spans parts of New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, including part of the petroleum-rich Permian Basin.

The administration said this week that an extremely rare wildflower that only grows in the high desert of Nevada should be protected under the Endangered Species Act. Tiehm’s buckwheat flower grows where an Australian mining company wants to extract lithium.


Brown reported from Billings, MT.

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