Biden administration restores threatened species protections dropped by Trump

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BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The Biden administration on Thursday restored rules to protect imperiled plants and animals that had been rolled back back under former President Donald Trump.
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Among the changes announced, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will reinstate a decades-old regulation that mandates blanket protections for species newly classified as threatened.
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The blanket protections regulation was dropped in 2019 as part of a suite of changes to the application of the species law under Trump that were encouraged by industry. Those changes came as extinctions accelerate globally due to habitat loss and other pressures.
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Under the new rules, officials also will not consider economic impacts when deciding if animals and plants need protection. And the rules from the wildlife service and National Marine Fisheries Service make it easier to designate areas as critical for a species’ survival, even if it is no longer found in those locations.
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Details on the proposed rules, which could take a year to finalize, were obtained by The Associated Press in advance of their public release.
Among the species that could benefit from the rules are imperiled fish and freshwater mussels in the Southeast, where the aquatic animals in many cases are absent from portions of their historical range, officials have said.
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Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams said the rule changes underscored the agency’s commitment to using the best available science to halt population declines as “climate change, degraded and fragmented habitat, invasive species, and wildlife disease” threaten many species.
Environmentalists had expressed frustration that it’s taken years for Biden to act on some of the Trump-era rollbacks. Stoking their urgency is the prospect of a new Republican administration following the 2024 election that could yet again ease protections.
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The proposal of the rules last year faced strong pushback from Republican lawmakers, who said President Joe Biden’s Democratic administration has hampered oil, gas and coal development, and favors conservation over development.
Industry groups have long viewed the 1973 Endangered Species Act as an impediment. Under Trump, they successfully lobbied to weaken the law’s regulations as part of a broad dismantling of environmental safeguards. Trump officials rolled back endangered species rules and protections for the northern spotted owl, gray wolves and other species.
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The spotted owl decision was reversed in 2021 after officials said Trump’s political appointees used faulty science to justify opening millions of acres of West Coast forest to potential logging. Protections for wolves across most of the U.S. were restored by a federal court in 2021.
The Endangered Species Act is credited with helping save the bald eagle, California condor and scores more animals and plants from extinction since President Richard Nixon signed it into law. It currently protects more than 1,600 species in the United States and its territories.

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