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Biden administration restores protections for endangered species that were removed by Trump

On Thursday, the Biden administration reinstated the rules to safeguard endangered plants and animals that had been reversed under former President Donald Trump.

BILLINGS, Mont. — On Thursday, the Biden administration reinstated regulations to safeguard endangered plants and animals that had been rolled back by former President Donald Trump.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will bring back a long-standing rule to provide broad protections for newly classified threatened species as part of the announced changes.

In 2019, the regulation for blanket protections was removed as part of a series of alterations to the species law under Trump, which were supported by the industry. These changes coincided with a global increase in extinctions due to habitat loss and other pressures.

Officials will also not take economic impacts into account when determining the need for protection of animals and plants. The rules from the wildlife service and National Marine Fisheries Service will simplify the process of designating critical areas for a species' survival, even if they are no longer present in those locations.

The announced rules could benefit endangered fish and freshwater mussels in the Southeast, where many aquatic animals are no longer found in parts of their historical range, according to officials.

Details about the proposed rules, which may take up to a year to be finalized, were obtained by The Associated Press before their public release.

Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams emphasized that the rule changes highlight the agency's commitment to using the best available science to address population declines, as various threats like climate change, degraded habitat, invasive species, and wildlife disease endanger many species.

Environmentalists have been frustrated by the delay in action from Democratic President Joe Biden to reverse some of the rollbacks from the Trump era. They are concerned about the possibility of a new Republican administration after the 2024 election that could further ease protections.

Jamie Rappaport Clark, a former Fish and Wildlife Service director and current president at Defenders of Wildlife, described Thursday's announcement as a "marginal win" that restores some essential protections for wildlife, but retains some of the changes made under Trump in 2019. The environmental group believes that the retained provisions could lead to the destruction of critical habitat for some species to survive.

The rules have faced strong opposition from Republican lawmakers, who argue that Biden's Democratic administration has hindered oil, gas, and coal development, and prioritizes conservation over development.

“We know the Endangered Species Act is an outdated piece of legislation that has repeatedly failed its primary goal of recovering listed species, yet Biden is now undoing crucial reforms and issuing new regulations that will not benefit listed species,” said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman, a Republican from Arkansas.

Many energy companies, ranchers, developers, and representatives of other industries have long considered the 1973 Endangered Species Act an obstacle. Under Trump, they successfully campaigned to weaken the law's regulations as part of a broad dismantling of environmental protections.

Trump officials also reduced the rules and safeguards for the northern spotted owl, gray wolves, and other species that are in danger of disappearing.

In 2021, the decision about the spotted owl was changed because officials believed that Trump's political appointees used flawed science to support the opening of millions of acres of West Coast forests to potential logging. Protections for wolves across most of the U.S. were reinstated by a federal court in 2021.

The Endangered Species Act, signed into law by President Richard Nixon, is acknowledged for helping rescue animals and plants such as the bald eagle and California condor from extinction. It currently provides protection for over 1,600 species in the United States and its territories.

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