By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
In a major win for America’s most imperiled wildlife, this week a U.S. federal judge voided a package of regulations enacted by the Trump administration that weakened the Endangered Species Act. We’ve been fighting these dangerous rollbacks since they were proposed. And as soon as they were enacted we went straight to court to defend the landmark law for animals, alongside a coalition led by Earthjustice. A group of wildlife-friendly state and city attorneys general* even joined the fight by filing their own lawsuit.
The victory in our case puts an end to this illegal and shortsighted attempt to undermine the world’s most powerful wildlife-protection law. It restores the longstanding and common-sense policy of extending full protections to species, like the grizzly bear, who are listed as “threatened.” It eliminates hurdles to protecting wildlife vulnerable to the long-term effects of climate change, which will prove essential as a warming climate continues to shrink the habitat of species like the wolverine and Pacific walrus. And it reaffirms that the survival of species must take precedence over industry profits.
We’re thrilled with this result, but it shouldn’t have taken years of litigation to get us here. The Biden administration announced its intent to rescind these rollbacks last summer but, more than a year later, no concrete proposal had been released, necessitating the court’s ruling. We hope this ruling will spur the administration to take swift and decisive action to unwind the harmful Trump-era wildlife policies that still remain on the books, including rules that allow cruel killing methods on federal lands in Alaska and weaken habitat protections for endangered species.
Despite the Endangered Species Act’s enormous popularity—a 2015 poll by Tulchin Research found that 90% of Americans, including 82% of self-described conservatives, support upholding it—this week’s win is just the latest in a long history of battles to defend it against attempts to whittle it down or eliminate it altogether. The Endangered Species Act is a national success story and has succeeded in preventing the extinction of 99% of listed species including the bald eagle, humpback whale and grizzly bear. With the court’s new ruling, the administration must work to ensure that this venerable law continues to do so.
*We’re grateful to the California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin attorneys general and the New York City law department for stepping up to defend the Endangered Species Act.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.