Biden Administration Moves to Restore Endangered Species Protections

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to reinstate a decades-old regulation that mandates protections for species newly classified as threatened

By Associated Press
A wolf slinks through the grass near the Inside North Fork in Glacier National Park on July 30, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

BILLINGS – The Biden administration proposed new rules for protecting imperiled plants and animals on Wednesday that would reverse changes under former President Donald Trump that weakened the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to reinstate a decades-old regulation that mandates protections for species newly classified as threatened. That provision was dropped under Trump as part of a suite of changes to the species law encouraged by industry.

Under Wednesday’s proposal, officials also would drop consideration of economic impacts when deciding if animals and plants need protection. Another change would expand requirements for federal agencies to consult with the wildlife service or the National Marine Fisheries Service before taking actions that could affect threatened or endangered species.

Details on the proposal were obtained by The Associated Press in advance of their public release.

Under Trump, officials rolled back endangered species rules and protections for the northern spotted owlgray wolves and other species. It will take months for Wednesday’s proposal to be finalized.

Industry groups and Republicans in Congress have long viewed the Endangered Species Act as an impediment to economic development, and under Trump they successfully lobbied to weaken the law’s regulations.

Many of the changes under Trump were finalized during his last weeks in office, giving the Republican administration little time to put them into action.

Biden administration officials say they are trying to bring the 1973 endangered species law into alignment with its original intent and purpose. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams said in a statement that the changes “reaffirm our commitment to conserving America’s wildlife and ensuring the Endangered Species Act works for both species and people.”

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Assistant Administrator Janet Coit said the rules would ensure the species law remain effective as climate change alters habitats around the globe and plants and animals go extinct.

The Democratic administration of President Joe Biden had earlier reversed Trump’s decision to weaken enforcement of the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which made it harder to prosecute bird deaths caused by the energy industry. And officials under Biden withdrew a 2020 rule that limited which lands and waters could be designated as places where imperiled animals and plants could receive federal protection.

But environmentalists have been frustrated it’s taken more than two years for Biden to act on some of the Trump-era rollbacks. Stoking their urgency is the prospect of a new Republican administration following the 2024 election that could yet again rollback protections.

“These are promising steps to get us back to the Endangered Species Act’s purpose, it’s power to protect,” said attorney Kristen Boyles with Earthjustice, which sued on behalf of environmental groups to block the Trump rules. The environmentalists prevailed in U.S. District Court then lost on appeal.

An array of industry groups have long maintained that economic impacts are not given enough consideration in U.S. government wildlife decisions. Those group range from livestock and ranching organizations to trade associations representing oil, gas and mining interests.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.