The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service are proposing several changes to Endangered Species Act regulations that would roll back reforms made under the Trump administration.
The proposals are the result of an executive order directing all federal agencies to review and address agency actions during the last four years that conflict with Biden-Harris administration objectives, such as addressing climate change.
The agencies will initiate rulemaking to:
• Rescind a regulatory definition of “habitat” that limits critical habitat designations to a location that “currently or periodically contains the resources and conditions necessary to support one or more life processes of a species.”
• Rescind a regulation that allows the Fish and Wildlife Service to exclude federal lands from critical habitat designation based on economic considerations and other factors.
• Reinstate the “blanket 4(d) rule,” which extends full endangered species protections to most species only listed as “threatened.”
• Prohibit the agencies from considering the economic impacts and certain other consequences of their ESA listing decisions.
• Revise regulations governing interagency consultation under Section 7 of the ESA.
While not unexpected, the announcement demonstrates a significant step backward in implementation of ESA and the improved clarity achieved under the last administration, according to the Public Lands Council and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
“These regulatory revisions will not improve outcomes — they will just make the ESA more burdensome on the people actually working to restore habitat and protect biodiversity,” said Kaitlynn Glover, NCBA executive director of natural resources and Public Lands Council executive director.
“We are disappointed to see the Biden administration take such a major step backwards on measures that facilitated significant on-the-ground progress by livestock producers, state governments and advocates in recent years,” she said.
“Frankly, the motivation behind this rollback is out of touch with how federal regulations impact rural communities and seems to have more to do with partisanship than the protection and recovery of wildlife,” she said.
The agencies are expected to move forward with these rulemakings in the coming months.
PLC and NCBA will continue to work to ensure that ESA recognizes the contributions of ranchers and voluntary conservation while being a clear and predictable regulatory mechanism.