December 3, 2023

A federal judge on Tuesday reversed a raft of actions by the Trump administration to roll back protection measures for endangered or threatened species, a year after the Biden administration said it was moving to strengthen protections for the species.

US District Judge John Tygar in Northern California has struck down Trump-era rules even as President Joe Biden’s two wildlife agencies review or repeal the regulations. The decision restores a range of protections under the Endangered Species Act — including some protections dating back to the 1970s — while the reviews are complete. Environmental groups praised the decision, which they said speeds up required conservation measures and critical habitat assignments for threatened species, including salmon in the Pacific Northwest.

Kristen Boyles, an attorney for environmental group Earth Justice, said Tigar’s ruling “spoke about the species most in need of blanket federal protection without compromise.” “Threatened and endangered species do not have the luxury of waiting under rules that do not protect them.”

The court ruling comes as two federal agencies – the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service – are reviewing five Endangered Species Act regulations were finalized by the administration of President Donald Trumpincluding critical habitat designations and rules that require federal agencies to consult with wildlife or fisheries services before taking actions that could affect threatened or endangered species.

Fish and Wildlife also said it would restore the decades-old “universal rule”, which mandates additional protections for species newly designated as threatened. This protection has been removed under Trump.

Critical habitat assignments for threatened or endangered species can lead to restrictions on energy development, such as mining or oil drilling, which can disturb vulnerable species, while a consultation rule and a separate rule on the scope of proposed federal actions help determine how far the government may go to protect endangered species.

Under Trump, those responsible for protecting the northern spotted owl, gray wolves and other species have rolled back measures that Biden has vowed to review. The Biden administration previously moved to reverse Trump’s decision to weaken enforcement of the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty law, which made it difficult to prosecute bird deaths over the energy industry.

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Northern Spotted Owl in an old growth forest managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

William F Campbell, Life via Getty Images

Repealing the Bird Act was among more than 150 environmentally friendly business measures Trump has taken, and Biden wants to reconsider, review or repeal, including withdrawing last month from a 2020 rule that limited land and water that could be designated as places where animals could receive and plants at risk of federal protection.

A spokesperson for the Department of the Interior, which oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, said Tuesday that the agency is reviewing the court’s ruling.

Fish and Wildlife, along with the Marine Fisheries Service, announced in June 2021 that they were reviewing Trump-era actions on endangered species. Officials said the reviews could take months or years to complete.

Industry groups and Republicans in Congress have long viewed the Endangered Species Act as an impediment to economic development, and under Trump they have successfully lobbied to weaken the law’s regulations. Environmental groups and Democratic-controlled states have resisted these moves in court, but many of these cases remain unresolved.

Ryan Shannon, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, another environmental group, said he was “incredibly relieved” that Trump-era “terrible” rules on endangered species were repealed by an Oakland, California-based Tigar, who is on the federal bench. Former President Barack Obama.

“I hope the Biden administration will take this opportunity to strengthen, rather than weaken, this important law, in the face of the ongoing extinction crisis,” Shannon said Tuesday.

Rebecca Riley of the Natural Resources Defense Council said the court ruling “ensures that the previous administration’s ‘extinction package’ is overturned.”

She and other advocates called on the Biden administration to ensure that the Endangered Species Act “can do its job: prevent the extinction of endangered species.”

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