Biden restores endangered species protections rolled back by Trump


By Rich McKay

(Reuters) -The Biden administration on Thursday restored some protections under the Endangered Species Act rolled back under former President Donald Trump, giving the federal government more leeway to designate plants or animals as threatened or endangered.

The 51-year-old Endangered Species Act, signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1973, is credited with helping to save the bald eagle, the California condor and numerous other animals and plants on the brink of extinction.

In 2019, the Trump administration ordered changes to the law to ease costs to the taxpayer and businesses. Those changes gave consideration to the economic costs on industries such as mining and timber of decisions to designate a species as threatened or endangered.

The reversal will mean “listing decisions and critical habitat designations are based on the best available science,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a statement on Thursday.

“These revisions underscore our commitment to using all of the tools available to help halt declines and stabilize populations of the species most at risk,” said the agency’s director Martha Williams.

The move by the Trump administration had been criticized by environmental groups for putting money over science.

Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told the media at the time that the revisions fit squarely within Trump’s mandate of easing the regulatory burden on the American public, without sacrificing protection and recovery goals.

Bruce Westerman, the Republican chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, decried the change, saying that the Endangered Species Act is an outdated piece of legislation.

“Biden is now undoing crucial reforms,” he said in a statement. “These rules are at best political posturing.”

The Biden administration also restored the so-called blanket rule that gives the same protection to species and habitats designated as threatened as those under the higher designation of endangered, when appropriate, the wildlife service said.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A bald eagle perches in a tree in LeClaire Park in Davenport, Iowa, U.S. March 12, 2023. REUERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

John Calvelli, executive vice president of public affairs at the non-profit environmental group Wildlife Conservation Society, applauded the move.

“Conservation work is never done, as 1 million species are at risk of extinction,” he said in an interview. “The Biden-Harris administration’s steps today to strengthen the Endangered Species Act, ensuring science is at the center of decisions to protect wildlife, is great news for all of nature.”