Judge rules out Trump-era reversals on endangered species

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday threw out a series of actions by the Trump administration to roll back protections for threatened or endangered species, a year after the Biden administration said it was moving to strengthen protections. of species weakened under former President Donald Trump. .

U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in Northern California struck down the Trump-era rules even as two wildlife agencies under President Joe Biden are reviewing or rescinding Trump-era regulations. The decision restores some protections under the Endangered Species Act while revisions are completed.

Environmental groups praised the decision, which they said sped up needed protections and the designation of critical habitats for threatened species, including salmon in the Pacific Northwest.

Tigar’s ruling “spoke in favor of species that desperately need comprehensive federal protections without compromise,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney with the environmental group Earthjustice. “Threatened and endangered species cannot afford to wait under rules that do not protect them.”

The court ruling comes as two federal agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, review five Endangered Species Act regulations finalized by the Trump administration, including those critical habitat designations and the rules that require federal agencies to consult with other agencies before taking action. on threatened or endangered species.

Fish and Wildlife also said it will reinstate the so-called “rule of thumb,” which requires additional protections for species that are newly classified as threatened. Those protections were removed under Trump.

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

Under Trump, officials reduced protections for the northern spotted owl, gray wolves and other species, actions that Biden has promised to review. The Biden administration previously moved to reverse Trump’s decision to weaken enforcement of the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which made it difficult to prosecute bird deaths caused by the energy industry.

The bird law decision is among more than 100 business-friendly actions on the environment Trump has taken that Biden wants to reconsider, revise or scrap.

A spokesman for the Department of the Interior, which oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the agency is reviewing the decision.

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

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

Ryan Shannon, a lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity, another environmental group, said he was “incredibly relieved” that the “terrible” Trump-era rules governing the Endangered Species Act were scrapped by Tigar, with headquartered in Oakland, California, who was appointed to the federal bank by former President Barack Obama.

“I hope the Biden administration seizes this opportunity to strengthen this crucial law, rather than weaken it, in the face of the current extinction crisis,” Shannon said Tuesday.


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