Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News
Last week, a pair of federal wildlife agencies proposed rescinding two of then-President Donald Trump’s policies that loosened environmental restrictions under the Endangered Species Act.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service issued a joint press release in which the departments recommended they be allowed to jettison the current definition of what constitutes a habitat and rescind regulations that govern critical habitat exclusion policies.
“The Endangered Species Act is one of the most important conservation tools in America and provides a safety net for species that are at risk of going extinct,” Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Shannon Estenoz said. “If finalized, today’s proposed actions will bring the implementation of the Act back into alignment with its original intent and purpose – protecting and recovering America’s biological heritage for future generations. In this effort, we look forward to continuing to work closely with our federal, Tribal, state and industry partners on behalf of our shared interests.”
The agencies also submitted an official report for public review to the Department of the Interior.
Assuming the changes come to fruition, they would return each policy’s wording to the way it existed prior to a push for change by the Trump Administration late last year.
In December 2020, Fish and Wildlife issued a rule that made it easier for developers and corporations to avoid having lands designated as critical for the survival of an endangered species.
As explained by a website owned by Troutman Pepper, a national law firm that lists environmental law among its specialties, the 2020 provisions allowed for an area to “be excluded from critical habitat designation if the benefits of exclusion outweigh the benefits of inclusion for that area (as long as excluding it will not result in the extinction of the species).”
Additionally, Fish and Wildlife and the National Fisheries Service argued that a rule that codified the classification of an area as a habitat should be replaced with a previous rule that allowed each case to be judged on its merits and based on expert input.
The existing rule contains language that eliminates certain areas from being defined as a habitat.
“The Services have re-evaluated this rule and conclude that decisions regarding whether a certain area qualifies as habitat for a species should instead be made on a case-by-case basis using the best available science,” the press release reads.
Last week’s recommendations are the latest in a series of moves made by President Joe Biden and members of his administration to dial back Trump-era environmental laws they say privileged industry over sustainability.
On his first day in office, President Biden issued Executive Order 13990, which instructed all federal agencies to align their policies and procedures with those of the new administration. The agencies cited this order as the nexus for their current recommendations.
Neither rule has been officially rescinded and both face a 30-day public comment period before any actions can be finalized. Public comment will end on Nov. 26.