By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
Update (10/26/2021): The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service proposed rules to rescind two Trump-era critical habitat regulations. If these rules are finalized, they will restore the definition of “habitat” and regulations that govern critical habitat exclusions. Critical habitat is vital to the conservation of endangered or threatened species and we applaud the Biden administration for taking this action. We will continue to press the administration to roll back previous actions that weaken vital protections for endangered and threatened species.
Today, the Biden administration announced it will take the needed ax to some of the Trump-era regulations that undermined the Endangered Species Act, and made a promise to revise others. This is a decisive move toward undoing the damage done by the previous administration to the bedrock law that protects endangered and threatened animal species and their habitat. We are grateful to the Biden administration for taking this essential step to restore protections for species facing extinction around the globe. We will press for more reforms, and we look forward to working with the administration and the U.S. Congress to ensure that vulnerable wildlife benefit from the necessary protections to bounce back from the brink of extinction.
The previous administration launched nothing short of a full-out assault on the ESA, adopting package after package of regulations that hamstrung the federal government’s ability to conserve and recover vulnerable species and their habitat. Among other steps, federal agencies under the previous administration made it more difficult to grant and maintain protections for species facing extinction and created carve-outs catering to both state and special interests that privileged profits and economic development over the survival of imperiled wildlife. Things are not supposed to work that way when it comes to ESA protections.
Today’s announcement signals the Biden administration’s intent to reverse many of these dangerous rollbacks. The reinstatement of a longstanding policy extending protections to “threatened” species is especially encouraging. After the previous administration eliminated this policy, threatened species did not automatically receive the full range of legal protections under the ESA, including such fundamental safeguards as protection from being shot, trapped, harassed, or otherwise harmed. It’s common sense that it should be illegal by default to kill or injure a vulnerable, federally listed animal, and we’re pleased that this key policy will be put back in place.
To fully restore the efficacy of the ESA and ensure the survival of our most imperiled wildlife species, these rollbacks must be repealed in their entirety. For example, changes that make it more difficult to protect species gravely threatened by climate change, such as wolverines, should be reverted. As the Biden Administration works to finalize its new policies, we urge its agencies to act swiftly and boldly to eliminate the dangerous regulatory changes that stripped animals of the strong protections they deserve.
The Humane Society family of organizations have fought the Trump-era ESA rollbacks in every forum, through litigation, lobbying, scientific and technical analysis and aggressive public awareness outreach. With other environmental and animal protection groups, we immediately challenged the legality of these regulations rules in federal court. In addition, we supported efforts by Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., in the last Congress to repeal this package through introduction of the Protect America’s Wildlife and Fish in Need of Conservation Act (Paw and Fin Conservation Act) H.R. 4348/S.2491.
This is the second time in a week that the Biden administration has shown its commitment to protecting imperiled wildlife. On May 28, the executive branch released its fiscal year 2022 budget request to Congress with a roadmap of priorities for the coming year. These included substantial funding increases to key programs supporting the protection of animals teetering on the brink of extinction or on their way there.
While we believe these proposed increases send a strong signal to Congress that this administration is committed to species conservation, the specified amounts are far below what the agencies need to meet their mandates under the ESA. We will work tirelessly to push for additional funding in the next budget package.
The ESA has saved more than 99% of listed species from going extinct, and today’s step will make it easier to ensure that threatened and endangered species, like the bald eagle, the grizzly bear and the African lion and elephant, do not go extinct. We encourage the administration to continue taking a hard look at other rollbacks that have affected listed species over the last four years, like the delisting of the gray wolf, which we strongly opposed.
Americans have a strong commitment to the protection and recovery of threatened and endangered wildlife, and our federal laws and policies concerning the ESA and other relevant statutes should reflect that to the highest possible degree. We’re not there yet but together we can give these and other animals all of the protections they deserve.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.