Tomorrow, the Trump administration is scheduled to publish its final rule undermining a key provision of the Endangered Species Act, further eroding one of the nation’s most effective and most popular laws. The rule establishes a new definition of what a species’ “habitat” is, undermining the act’s goal to prevent extinction and to promote recovery. The definition will now undermine federal agencies’ ability to establish critical habitat for listed species as the science requires by limiting what counts as “habitat.” Specifically, it will exclude areas that may require some restoration or modifications to allow critically imperiled species to recover. For example, a species that relies on woodlands may need us to plant new trees to restore habitat. This new rule is especially damaging in places like Hawaiʻi, where habitat is limited for native species found nowhere else on earth.
“This administration is leaving office with a scorched earth policy for wildlife,” said Addie Haughey, Earthjustice Legislative Director for Lands, Wildlife, and Oceans. “The Trump administration finalized this rule just under the wire to make it harder for species to survive and recover — the exact opposite of what we should be doing under the Endangered Species Act. We urge President-elect Biden and his administration to take a hard look at this anti-science rule next year.”
The new rule also undercuts wildlife conservation in the face of climate change by prohibiting new habitat designations for species that are migrating to new areas to find more favorable temperatures and other habitat conditions.
This change is just one more domino to fall in the administration’s all-out assault on the Endangered Species Act and other environmental protections. In 2019, the administration issued their first round of rollbacks. The finalization of this latest rule is now the administration’s second swipe at this vital conservation tool.