In a major setback for wildlife protection and conservation, a federal district court today sided with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service, delaying the restoration of comprehensive Endangered Species Act protections for hundreds of species and the places they call home.
The Services filed the motion in December 2021 in response to a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), National Parks Conservation Association, WildEarth Guardians, and the Humane Society of the United States challenging harmful rules put in place by the Trump administration in 2019. The Services asked to partially rewrite flawed Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations while keeping them in place during a rulemaking process that could take years to complete. The Court agreed, allowing the 2019 ESA regulations to remain in place with no set timeline for the Biden administration to propose new rules.
Conservation groups challenged the Trump administration rules for undermining protections for imperiled species and habitat necessary for their survival, and their lawsuit was joined by a group of states, led by California, and an animal welfare group.
With today’s ruling, the Trump rules will continue to upend decades of legal clarity and undermine protections for hundreds of species that have benefited from the established policy. It is now vital that the Biden administration move quickly to reverse all the harmful changes put in place by Trump. Although the Biden administration early on stated its intent to revise the harmful Trump-era rules, it has dragged its feet over the past two years and now says that it will need two more years to complete its amendments.
The Trump-era rules allowed economic considerations to influence whether species were provided life-saving protections, allowed agencies to sideline impacts to endangered species from climate change, and reduced protections for species listed as threatened, among other harmful changes.
“Today’s ruling means that the Endangered Species Act stays in its weakened state from the Trump administration,” said Kristen Boyles, attorney with Earthjustice. “We are in a biodiversity crisis, and the Biden administration has dragged its feet in revitalizing the world’s most effective law for species and habitat protection. The administration is out of excuses.”
“This decision pushes at-risk species like wolverines and golden-winged warblers even further into harm’s way,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Fish and Wildlife Service should have rescinded these terrible rules gutting the Endangered Species Act on day one of the Biden administration. If we’re truly going to address the extinction crisis, we need a reformed agency that acts with urgency.”
“If the Biden administration cares about climate change impacts, and cares about wildlife, it will rescind the Trump-era rules without further delay,” said Karimah Schoenhut, senior staff attorney for the Sierra Club. “These unlawful Trump-era rules frustrate effective implementation of the ESA, and vulnerable species don’t have time to waste.”
“To stem the biodiversity crisis, we need swift, comprehensive action to restore and fully implement ESA protections.” said Lucas Rhoads, attorney in the Nature Program at NRDC. “The court’s disappointing decision underscores the need for the Biden administration to step up to protect our most vulnerable species. So far, progress has been too slow.”
“Every day that harmful rules remain in place is bad for biodiversity and a blow to the Endangered Species Act,” said McCrystie Adams, acting vice president and managing attorney of conservation law for Defenders of Wildlife. “We need the Biden administration to adopt and implement policies and rules that are commensurate with the threats to biodiversity without delay.”
“This decision is a setback to America’s conservation legacy and diminishes our ability to protect threatened and endangered species amidst the dual climate and biodiversity crisis,” said Bart Melton, Wildlife program director for the National Parks Conservation Association. “The Biden administration should end these Trump-era regulations that undercut the effectiveness of our nation’s most effective tool in the fight to recover imperiled species.”
“Today’s decision means wildlife facing extinction must wait even longer for protections they desperately need,” said Joe Bushyhead, endangered species attorney with WildEarth Guardians. “The onus is now on the Biden administration to fix the damage from Trump’s attacks on the Endangered Species Act, and to do so quickly.”
“This decision will allow dangerous and unlawful regulatory rollbacks to remain in place, weakening the Endangered Species Act when our most vulnerable species need its protections more than ever,” said Nicholas Arrivo, Managing Attorney for the Humane Society of the United States. “There is no time to delay; the Biden administration must move swiftly to rescind these rules and make good on its promise to restore our most effective wildlife protection law.”