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The Biden Administration Just Took One Step to Protect Endangered Species. It Must Do Much More.

What happened: The Biden administration has moved to restore some of the endangered species regulations that the Trump administration eliminated. These protections include rules under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that seek to preserve the habitats of vulnerable plants and animals and ensure that the economic interests of industry do not dictate which species we protect.

Why it matters: As human activity has put over a third of the plants and animals in the U.S. at risk of extinction, such protections are more important than ever. Earthjustice went to court in 2019 to challenge the gutting of the Endangered Species Act rules, and we are urging the Biden administration to finalize full restoration of these critical safeguards.

How a Critical Law for Wildlife Conservation Came Under Attack

  • What is the Endangered Species Act? The ESA is a law passed by Congress in 1973 to prevent extinction, recover imperiled plants and animals, and protect the ecosystems on which they depend. Ninety-nine percent of species that have received protection under the law — including bald eagles, Florida manatees, and gray wolves — have been spared from extinction.
  • How the rules are made: Federal agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, are responsible for writing regulations that carry out the ESA’s mandates and intent.
  • Safeguards removed: Under the Trump administration, these agencies wrote regulations that dramatically weakened the ESA, including:
    • Making it more difficult to protect imperiled plants, animals, and habitat.
    • Removing automatic, default protections for newly listed threatened species.
    • Narrowing the prohibition on harming critical habitat so that it only applies in limited situations.

Taking the Fight to Court

  • Legal challenge: Represented by Earthjustice, seven conservation groups sued the Trump administration in 2019 for violating the ESA’s intent, failing to analyze the harm that gutting the law would cause, and cutting the public out of its decision-making process.
  • The plaintiffs include Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association, WildEarth Guardians, and the Humane Society of the United States.
  • Reversing the damage: After the Biden administration took office, it eventually began to work on restoring endangered species protections.
  • Trump rules remain active: Last summer, a federal judge ruled that the dangerous Trump administration rules on endangered species needed to be thrown out while the Biden administration drafted replacements. However, industrial interests and GOP-run states appealed, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately allowed the rules to stay in place.

What Happens Next

  • A chance to weigh in: There will be a 60-day public comment period ending Aug. 21, and the rules are expected to be finalized by spring 2024.
  • More must be done: The proposed revisions leave harmful portions of the Trump regulations in place, and more must be done to get us back to prior protections. The ESA’s 50th anniversary is this year. Fully restoring it would be an excellent way to celebrate.
  • Repairing the law is not enough: Ultimately, protecting species as the biodiversity crisis worsens will mean not only restoring the ESA but strengthening it.
Bald Eagles are still prevalent today in large part thanks to the ESA
Bald eagles are still prevalent today in large part thanks to the Endangered Species Act. (Photo courtesy of Kenneth Cole Schneider)