Biden Administration’s ESA Regulations Restore Important Protections to Imperiled Species, But Don’t Go Far Enough

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Washington, DC—The Biden administration has released three Endangered Species Act regulations that reinstate some critical protections for imperiled species and their habitats, yet fail to reverse many of the dangerous rollbacks implemented by the previous administration.

Announced Thursday, the finalized regulations from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service restore broad automatic protections for threatened species while they await a more tailored set of protections drafted by the USFWS, and confirm that economic factors should not be considered in listing decisions.

The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) is disappointed, however, that the administration stopped short of fully restoring the ESA’s regulations, which were weakened in 2019 under the Trump administration.

“Species teetering on the brink of extinction deserve stronger protections than the Biden administration gave them,” said Johanna Hamburger, director and senior attorney for AWI’s Terrestrial Wildlife Program. “While we appreciate that some improvements have been made, the regulations were not restored to their historic strength, which leaves species vulnerable to ever-increasing threats, particularly from habitat loss exacerbated by climate change.”

Celebrating its 50th anniversary last year, the ESA is hailed as the world’s strongest conservation law and credited with saving 99% of listed species from extinction. It was enacted to provide a framework to protect and recover species at risk of extinction — both at home and abroad — by promoting the conservation of ecosystems upon which those species depend.

The Trump-era provisions curtailed protections afforded to threatened species, allowed economic considerations to be weighed when deciding whether to list a species, significantly undermined the process for designating protected habitat, and thwarted the interagency consultation process by restricting input from experts best suited to determine how federal projects affect imperiled species.

Those 2019 regulations generated public outrage, including more than 800,000 public comments, and letters signed by 105 US representatives and 34 US senators. Ten states and the District of Columbia opposed the weakening of the ESA, as well as more than 30 tribal nations. The rules were successfully challenged in federal court.

In August, AWI joined other organizations in calling on the Biden administration to fully restore the core components of this bedrock environmental law. Unfortunately, the newly released rules still allow for piecemeal destruction of essential habitat, do not ensure adequate consideration of the full scope of a project’s consequences, permit offsite mitigation to compensate for onsite harm to species, and do not fully restore important expert consultation requirements.

Media Contact Information

Margie Fishman, Animal Welfare Institute
(202) 446-2128, [email protected]

The Animal Welfare Institute is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere: in agriculture, in commerce, in our communities, in research, and in the wild. Follow us on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and Instagram for updates and other important animal protection news.