In Waning Days, Trump Administration Releases Another Rule Undermining ESA

Photo by Gary Leavens
Photo by Gary Leavens

Washington, DC—Only two days after finalizing a rule undermining the protection of critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has published another final rule further weakening implementation of this vital conservation law.

Under this rule, habitat on federal public land could be excluded from protection if development of the land would produce greater economic benefits than protecting it for wildlife. This would allow energy development, grazing, logging, and other commercial uses on land that threatened and endangered species need to survive and recover as they face increasing habitat loss due to land conversion, pollution, and climate change.

This rule reverses a 2016 policy that prioritized the designation of critical habitat on federal public lands and outlined the duties of federal agencies in conserving species in these areas. Numerous scientific studies have recognized that federal public lands provide vital habitat to threatened and endangered species. Species found exclusively on federal land are more likely to be improving in status than those located on private land or a mix of private and federal land.

“In these final months of 2020, the Trump administration has doubled down on its efforts to do as much damage as possible to the Endangered Species Act,” said Johanna Hamburger, director and senior staff attorney for AWI’s terrestrial wildlife program. “This latest rule further undermines one of the law’s fundamental goals of protecting areas vital to preventing extinction and ensuring the long-term security of species. It will grant economic considerations outsized weight in decisions about habitat, which is inconsistent with the ESA’s intent. Under the law, species’ recovery needs should be prioritized and be driven by the best available science.”

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